Attention and counter-framing in the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 9 (367) (2022)
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Abstract

The social media platform Twitter platform has played a crucial role in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The immediate, flexible nature of tweets plays a crucial role both in spreading information about the movement’s aims and in organizing individual protests. Twitter has also played an important role in the right-wing reaction to BLM, providing a means to reframe and recontextualize activists’ claims in a more sinister light. The ability to bring about social change depends on the balance of these two forces, and in particular which side can capture and maintain sustained attention. The present study examines 2 years worth of tweets about BLM (about 118 million in total). Timeseries analysis reveals that activists are better at mobilizing rapid attention, whereas right-wing accounts show a pattern of moderate but more sustained activity driven by reaction to political opponents. Topic modeling reveals differences in how different political groups talk about BLM. Most notably, the murder of George Floyd appears to have solidified a right-wing counter-framing of protests as arising from dangerous “terrorist” actors. The study thus sheds light on the complex network and rhetorical effects that drive the struggle for online attention to the BLM movement.

Author Profiles

Ritsaart Reimann
Macquarie University
Ignacio Ojea Quintana
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Marc Cheong
University of Melbourne
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