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From the haters and hackers to propaganda and privacy concerns, social media often deserves its bad reputation. But the sustained activism that followed George Floyd’s death and the ongoing movement for racial justice also demonstrated how social media can be a crucial mechanism of social change. We saw how online and on-the-ground activism can fuel each other and build momentum in ways neither can achieve in isolation. We have seen in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and more specifically the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, a new and powerful approach to using social media that goes beyond symbolic “slacktivism” and performative allyship to mobilizing people for social and cultural change. In this essay, we use empirical data to support a new theoretical model that illustrates how contemporary movements can use social media to build awareness, educate, and most importantly, promote the kinds of offline action that can lead to deeper structural change. In this case, BLM effectively leveraged social media to fuel and facilitate mass protests and broaden social awareness. In 2020-21, we have seen this begin to inspire deeper social, cultural, and legal change, in ways that previously felt like distant hope.

Publication Citation

California Law Review Online, Vol. 12, Reckoning and Reformation symposium.