In the weeks since the video of George Floyd’s death in police custody was released, social media has been used as a tool to inform, provide resources and connect communities. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have been a venue for many, in particular black Americans, to express their solidarity, frustration, pain and exhaustion.
Black actors, directors and activists said publicly online that change needs to happen in the United States. In many cases, the videos that have gone viral on social media have drawn national attention to instances of everyday racism.
However, for some, there’s a dark side to these platforms. As the video of Floyd’s death — showing the full 8 minutes and 46 seconds during which a white Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck — circulated without a disclaimer, many asked for it to stop.
In the wake of Floyd’s death and as protests across the nation amped up, social media quickly became flooded with conversations centered on racism, systemic oppression and police violence. The very topics ingrained in everyday life as a black American were then trumpeted repeatedly on social media, leading some to log off their accounts for self-designated breaks as shared posts became overwhelming and reinforced the exhaustion and trauma they already felt.
Kandace Montgomery and Miski Noor live in Minneapolis, blocks away from where Floyd died. Both are members of and organizers for Black Visions Collective, and they say the exhaustion stems from the years of trauma black communities have lived with violent policing.
“I think that that exhaustion is just like we actually don't even get a break,” Montgomery said. “I think that I am tired of calling for the same things over and over … and those things, landing on deaf ears. ... I'm tired of having to see my people die, and that being broadcasted across national TV and waking up to that news.”
“What’s really true, and what this uprising is an indication of, is that black communities have been and are living in persistent fear of being killed by state authorities,” she said.
Conversations online and in real life over the past few weeks have focused on living, and surviving, while black.
”Your black friends are exhausted,” strategist and entrepreneur Isata Yansaneh posted on Instagram. In the caption, she wrote: “We were raised to believe that we could graduate and work our way into being treated like first class citizens. … For those of you who can’t really feel this because you’re not black in America, trust me when I tell you that being raised to believe that you can achieve equal footing in a system that depends on your subjugation is the recipe for a lifetime of exhaustion.”
Some have used social media itself to push people to take a break and consider what actions they can take to support the black community and amplify black voices.
On Wednesday, black women began taking over the social media accounts of white women for the #SharetheMicNow digital campaign in order to promote the work they are doing and encourage others to listen to what they have to say. Last week, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, both black women working in the music industry, called for #TheShowMustBePaused. It later morphed into #BlackOutTuesday, a digital protest initiative in which supporters posted a black square on their social media platform and served to encourage people to reflect. (The initiative backfired a little, however, when some used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in their posts, flooding the tag with black squares and leaving some unable to find the information they needed.)
A few trends have emerged recently to counter the heavier posts circulating. One asks black men and women to share a positive image and an affirmation as a reminder that not all news is negative when it comes to black people.
“Social media is a critical tool,” activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham said on Instagram. “It is a tool to educate people about white supremacy, it is a tool for people to reflect on their own anti-blackness, it is a tool for people to advocate on behalf of police violence, racism and actually do the work it takes. It is also a tool for activist organizers to stay connected and alert people about actions and alert people about the immediate support that they need.”