The Assassination of Character: A Reversed Agenda Setting Study of the Twitter Campaign “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown”

Alice Fews

Abstract


The fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown sparked U.S. wide protests. Whilst many protested on the streets in Ferguson, online activists took to social media. The viral #IfTheyGunnedMeDown was a response to how Michael Brown was portrayed in the media, with some audiences labelling him a thug who was flashing gang signs. It aimed to address a rhetorical question which resonates with much of the African American community, “what picture would the media use to represent me?” Scholars have highlighted how black individuals are often depicted as violent criminals and much of society has come to subconsciously accept these stereotypes. This study uses a multimodal discourse analysis (MDA) of Twitter content to identify common negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and a content analysis of U.S. mainstream news coverage, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times to identify whether the hashtag campaign had reversed agenda setting effects. The results of the study have found that the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown successfully highlighted the problematic issue of the media routinely reinforcing negative stereotypes of African Americans and influenced the media to discuss the issue within wider reports of Ferguson. The study has highlighted that viral hashtag campaigns on Twitter are becoming a powerful force for ordinary citizens to voice their opinions and should not be ignored by journalists.

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