Black Lives Matter, Always
Updated: Apr 7
George Floyd’s death on May 25 2020 sparked historic protests across the United States and abroad. In a whirlwind of national media coverage, trending hashtags, and mass demonstrations, many of us were overwhelmed by the barrage of information ― and many of us wanted to know how we could help.
Activism Always grew out of this momentum in 2020. Our team tracked the public’s online footprint regarding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the month following George Floyd’s death to better understand how this period of impassioned activism and public discourse has affected public sentiments around the BLM movement. We used an interdisciplinary approach, combining Natural Language Processing and data visualization with academic and historical literary research, and collected insights on the life-cycle and geographic range of the response to the mass protests (on Twitter and Google), as well as the resulting sentiments surrounding BLM and related topics.
How long did this increase in engagement of the movement following George Floyd’s murder last?
Through data collected from Google (News, Search, and Youtube) our analysis examines the longevity and sustainability of public interest and action (online engagement) associated with the BLM movement of Summer 2020.
We extracted a time slice from May 25th to June 25th, 2020. During this period, the protest life-cycle of the Black Lives Matter movement went through the "growing" stage (May 25th - June 1st), the "peak" stage (June 2nd - June 7th), and the "aging" stage (June 7th - Now) within a month. (Learn more about our terminology here.)
What drove the rapid growth of the Black Lives Matter movement in its early stage? Highly visible, social media activities (like #blackouttuesday) led to spikes in attention early on. Around the same time, many people nationally and globally joined mass protests, which helped spread the message into the mainstream. However, as momentum slowed, as seen in the aging stage, the public started to speak less about Black Lives Matter.
Fortunately, the voices were not disappearing but instead stabilizing. Though the general public was moving on, reinvesting their focus to other pertinent social issues (COVID-19, etc.), or "burning out", some were continuing to engage with Black Lives Matter online. We suspect this group of people better represents the population of people who are more likely to invest their efforts into advocating for long-term, anti-racist changes. In our Twitter Analysis, we were able to see the changes in trending topics related to Black Lives Matter between the different protest life stages.
Which geographic regions talked about this movement actively?
According to Google: A score of 100 indicates the geographical location with the most popularity as a fraction of total searches in that location, a value of 50 indicates a location which is half as popular. A value of 0 indicates a location where there was not enough data for this term.
Due to the computation of the engagement rate (value), less populated states more easily get higher values. With that in mind, the dynamic map above shows how this movement spread across the nation. Learn more about Google Trends data here.
For our research, we chose eight keywords (related to trending Twitter hashtags during the same period) to analyze: “George Floyd”, “Breonna Taylor”, “protests”, “protests near me”, “Black Lives Matter”, “donate BLM”, “donate Black Lives Matter”, and “police brutality.” We counted the top three U.S. states and top three countries (worldwide) based on keyword popularity (Google Trends value) over the last 12 months and between May 25, 2020 till June 23, 2020.
Some insights include:
Washington state had particularly high search popularity for the term “protest”
Majority of search keywords were most popular (top 3) in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom during the periods we analyzed (within 12 months and between May 25, 2020 till June 23, 2020)
Overall, Washington DC had the highest engagement rate for most of the days.
From the data available, three states (North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) had low to negligible search popularity for the keywords: “donate BLM” and “donate Black Lives Matter”. This could be due to these states’ low population, and thus a reflection of the Google Trends search popularity value calculation. However, it is still important to note these states’ low to negligible search popularity during the one-month period from May 25, 2020 (for both keywords) and for the past 12 months AND from May 25, 2020 (for “donate BLM”). Further research and consideration should be made to this insight.
What trending topics arose during the time period immediately following George Floyd’s death?
Top Hashtags on Twitter around Black Lives Matter
Growing Stage: In the early growing stage, hashtags were focused around George Floyd’s murder, (e.g. #georgefloyd, #icantbreathe, #justiceforgeorgefloyd). At the end of May, protest-related hashtags were emerging, which was followed by hashtags associated with specific activities, such as #blackouttuesday.
Peak Stage: #blackouttuesday was at the peak stage of this protest life cycle. Around that time, Breonna Taylor's murder gained online traction, as well as criticism around the police system. Approaching the end of this stage, #defundpolice stepped into the top ten trending hashtags for the first time, along with a growing number of unrelated hashtags.
Aging Stage: The stage is the most complex. Topics around other related events, and holidays (#juneteenth) came and went. Tangentially related topics (e.g. antifa) were drawing the public's attention. Nevertheless, #defundthepolice was stable within the list of top ten trending hashtags throughout the rest of June. At the end of June, #georgefloyd was no longer the top related hashtags to BLM, but #defundthepolice was.
What sentiments were observed during this period online (positive versus negative)?
Our analysis split tweets into three sentiment categories: positive, negative, and neutral. Positive tweets included terms that have more positive connotations; Negative tweets included more terms that have more negative connotations. Neutral tweets did not use particularly positively or negatively connotative language. Positive/Negative/Neutral very narrowly defines the emotional state ("sentiments") in which online users were discussing issues around BLM.
What sentiments were observed for law enforcement (police officers)?
We also applied the same methodology to other topics like donation, protest, police. Here are some snapshots & insights we gained.
In police-related tweets, there were 2 types of hashtags that were talked about the most - anti-police and for-police. Anti-police tweets include topics like defund the police, acab, and police brutality. For-police tweets were more about "blue lives matter".
Though anti-police tweets had more negative sentiments for sure, for-police tweets were also not that positive. When Twitter users talked about "blue lives matter", it might be just sarcasm.
Writing in the End
We sincerely hope our research and reflection on how George Floyd’s death has impacted Black Lives Matter can provide exploratory insights into the momentum of June 2020. Activism Always will keep tracking the update and is ready to support anytime.
Activism Always’ hybrid service combines an internal AI platform with strategy analytics, maximizing organizations' data capabilities and impact with an accessible price and format. If you have any questions or interested in a FREE informational consultation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay was originally published on blmalways.com in July 2020.