PLoS ONE (Jan 2023)

Say their names: Resurgence in the collective attention toward Black victims of fatal police violence following the death of George Floyd

  • Henry H. Wu,
  • Ryan J. Gallagher,
  • Thayer Alshaabi,
  • Jane L. Adams,
  • Joshua R. Minot,
  • Michael V. Arnold,
  • Brooke Foucault Welles,
  • Randall Harp,
  • Peter Sheridan Dodds,
  • Christopher M. Danforth

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 18, no. 1


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The murder of George Floyd by police in May 2020 sparked international protests and brought unparalleled levels of attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. As we show, his death set record levels of activity and amplification on Twitter, prompted the saddest day in the platform’s history, and caused his name to appear among the ten most frequently used phrases in a day, where he is the only individual to have ever received that level of attention who was not known to the public earlier that same week. Importantly, we find that the Black Lives Matter movement’s rhetorical strategy to connect and repeat the names of past Black victims of police violence—foregrounding racial injustice as an ongoing pattern rather than a singular event—was exceptionally effective following George Floyd’s death: attention given to him extended to over 185 prior Black victims, more than other past moments in the movement’s history. We contextualize this rising tide of attention among 12 years of racial justice activism on Twitter, demonstrating how activists and allies have used attention and amplification as a recurring tactic to lift and memorialize the names of Black victims of police violence. Our results show how the Black Lives Matter movement uses social media to center past instances of police violence at an unprecedented scale and speed, while still advancing the racial justice movement’s longstanding goal to “say their names.”