Black Twitter, Mainstream media, Media coverage, Critical Race Theory, Black American-centered publications

Document Type

Research Paper


This study examines the 2014 media coverage of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, an early example of hashtag activism driven by the social media sub-community Black Twitter in response to the murder of a Black teenager, Michael Brown, Jr., by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Reacting to national reporting on the event, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown criticized the mainstream media for promoting racially prejudiced representations of Brown and utilized this example to critique two historical patterns in American news coverage: the pattern of stereotyping Black Americans as violent to justify police brutality and the pattern of representing journalism informed by a hegemonically white perspective as “objective.” Under the lens of Critical Race Theory and following Sonja K. Foss’s method of narrative analysis, this research identifies, organizes and compares models of reporting on #IfTheyGunnedMeDown in mainstream national, mainstream regional and Black American-centered news media outlets. The emerging narratives, grouped under the terms “Empowerment” and “Information,” reveal that the mainstream media often evaded addressing the critiques of its institutional practices while Black American-centered publications illustrated the historical significance of digital counterpublics in advocating for social change. These results suggest the ongoing need to diversify mainstream media institutions and fundamentally transform their traditional approaches to news narratives.




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