Darnella Frazier captured the footage of George Floyd’s tragic death and shared it on Facebook in May this year. Since then, it’s gone ‘viral’ – receiving over one billion views across different platforms and sparking social reform.
Facebook’s ability to reach millions of people undoubtedly gave this footage the exposure it needed. But, if the very platform itself condones racist behaviour, then it’s capacity to do good is severely undermined.
You could say that when George Floyd died, the world woke up. His death has reignited the fight against racism, injecting it with a new momentum that doesn’t take ignorance for an answer. From companies admitting their shortcomings and creating new ‘diversity inclusion’ roles to Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race selling more than 34,000 copies, it certainly feels like change is afoot. It’s no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye – and those that do so are being called out for it.
Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are used by hundreds of millions of people daily, and allow anyone to share and spread information. Their role in facilitating the public, especially young people, to engage in the fight against racism is critical. However, what does it mean when the very sites that are allowing the communication of this crucial information are an integral part of the problem?
The “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign is arguing that Facebook doesn’t do enough to remove racist content from its platform and is working to convince major companies to pull advertising on the site in order to take a clear stand against racism.
Facebook is a social media giant. With over 2.5 billion users, it’s the biggest networking platform in the world – and with that comes a lot of social responsibility. What’s posted on online can have a huge impact and change the world, as demonstrated by the footage of George Floyd’s murder.
The owner of the platform, Mark Zuckerberg, claims that the company’s core values are to ‘be bold; focus on impact; move fast; be open; and build social value’. But, you cannot build social value if racism is given an equal voice to justice.
Coca-Cola, Unilever and Adidas are amongst other global companies which have pulled their advertising. So far, the boycott has led to a $7 billion loss in revenue, as well as attracting public attention. In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company will start tagging hateful content – but will still allow it to be published.
For the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign and many others, this response is simply not enough. Facebook is complicit in racism by giving it exposure, and a few tags won’t change this. Zuckerberg’s response? Free speech is king. It begs the question, what should be censored on social media and what shouldn’t? Would the harrowing video of George Floyd’s death have been allowed to be shared with strict censorship laws in place?
There’s a difference between allowing freedom of speech, and not allowing a platform to facilitate racism. Social media can build social value but it can also do the opposite, and we as a generation need to stop relying on it as our sole source of communication.
Social media has always been a source of contention. Perhaps one of the most polarizing phenomena of our time, debates surrounding its power for both good and bad rage on, even today. Whichever camp you fall into though, what’s clear is that it has transformed our daily lives and is here to stay.
During recent months, we’ve witnessed how it functions across multiple levels. From providing us with some escapism in the form of homemade banana bread photos and sweaty post-5k selfies to forcing self-reflection with Nurse Dawn Bilbrough’s moving plea, to re-sparking the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media’s ability to connect, unite and inform is unrivalled.
When companies such as Facebook give racism a voice, it makes the fight much more complicated. There are now nearly 23 million posts under the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Instagram. Thousands of people are sharing anti-racist information on the platform – but is this undermined by the sheer act of utilising a platform that is just as guilty?
While social media sites will likely remain a critical medium for spreading important information, we need to become aware of the behaviour we inadvertently condone by continuing to use them.
Frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to stop using these platforms. They’re a quick and easy way to spread important information, and without them, we would be disadvantaged. But, recognising the deeply ingrained problems that come with doing so is crucial.
Young people need to pay attention to the Facebook advertising boycott because it forces us to think about where we get our information from and how we spread it. In the current political climate, it’s more important than ever to form our opinions from a variety of trustworthy sources. Social media serves a purpose, but we must remember that it’s one way amongst many others that enable us to stay informed and create social change.