Ferguson shooting: US citizens’ Twitter use shaped national debate

New York, Jan 31 (IANS) Common citizens and not politicians or celebrities were the ones who, using the micro-blogging site Twitter, shaped the national dialogue in the US following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, a new research has found.

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, set off a national wave of dialogue and protests, from the streets to social media, as people nationwide grappled with myriad complex issues, including police use of force, race relations in the US, and criminal justice reform.

Sarah Jackson and Brooke Foucault Welles, both assistant professors of communication studies at the Northeastern University, examined 535,794 tweets from August 9 to August 15, 2014, that included the word or hashtag “Ferguson”.

They identified the top 10 tweets each day that were most retweeted or mentioned and then analysed how these Twitter users — who they described “early initiators” and “crowdsourced elites” — drove the discussion in the days following Brown’s killing.

Twitter, they argued, catalysed the national response. The first week of “Ferguson” tweets, from the time of Brown’s death up till the national media coverage and President Barack Obama’s public address — illustrated the power of social media to allow everyday citizens, particularly those in marginalised groups, to influence larger public debates, they said in a paper published in the journal Information, Communication & Society.

“From my perspective, what’s significant is that Twitter can allow everyday people who otherwise have little social or political power to shape a narrative about their experiences and what matters about those experiences,” Jackson noted.

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