DALLAS — The Dallas police shooting last month dramatically changed the nation’s online conversation about race, unearthing much more negativity against the #BlackLivesMatter movement, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
The study, released Monday, considered how social media users talk about race, analyzing the impact of major news events and exploring differences in the online experience of blacks and whites.
It found that as Americans increasingly turn to social media as a virtual town hall, online conversations can help propel racial issues into the national spotlight.
But it also found that the same disparities that occur elsewhere in life exist online: White experiences on social media are much different from those of people of color.
In the days before the July 7 police shooting, as the nation reacted to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, 87 percent of tweets mentioning #BlackLivesMatter were supportive of the cause.
Then shots rang out in Dallas about 9 p.m. July 7, and the tone shifted overnight.
From July 8 to July 17, support for #BlackLivesMatter dropped to just 28 percent of tweets. And 39 percent of tweets using the hashtag were critical, compared to just 11 percent in the previous time period.
Many negative tweets blamed #BlackLivesMatter for the attacks on police, and some referred to it as a terrorist organization, the study found.
On July 8, the hashtag #AllLivesMatter was used almost 190,000 times and #BlueLivesMatter was used nearly 140,000 times — a major uptick compared to previous months.
Tweets using those hashtags were mostly favorable, the study found, a stark contrast to the backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The study also found remarkable differences in how people use social media, depending on their race.
Black adults are nearly twice as likely as whites to say that most or some of the posts they see on social media are race-related. Hispanics fall somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, the study found, actively posting about race on social media is much more common among people of color.
About 28 percent of black social media users and 20 percent of Hispanics say at least some of what they share is about race relations. Just 8 percent of whites say the same.
Pew analyzed tweets from Jan. 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 and found a lively online discussion about race.
There were 995 million tweets about racial issues during those months and no single day had fewer than 1.5 million tweets about race.
The most active periods tended to come after a major news event, including the death of Sandra Bland, who authorities say hanged herself in a Texas jail after she was arrested for kicking an officer during a traffic stop.
Her death spurred three of the most active days to talk about race on Twitter in the time frame, according to Pew. Here are the top 10:
June 18, 2015 — 4.3 million tweets — Day after church shooting in Charleston, S.C.
April 28, 2015 — 3.4 million tweets — Unrest in Baltimore after death of Freddie Gray
July 22, 2015 — 3.3 million tweets — Details released about death of Sandra Bland
July 29, 2015 — 3 million tweets — #BlackLivesMatter protests in response to Sandra Bland’s death
July 23, 2015 — 3 million tweets — Day after details are released about Sandra Bland’s death
Feb. 16, 2016 — 2.9 million tweets — Day after Kendrick Lamar’s provocative performance at the Grammy Awards
Nov. 11, 2015 — 2.9 million tweets — Missouri University of Science and Technology student is arrested after racially charged threats
June 19, 2015 — 2.9 million tweets — Two days after church shooting in Charleston
Feb. 29, 2016 — 2.9 million tweets — Day after 2016 Oscars, controversial for lack of minority nominees
June 29, 2015 — 2.9 million tweets — Day after BET Awards
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