3: Archival Conversations


“We have to defend our right to live with a hashtag. That is awful, not the hashtag, but the fact we have to explain that #BlackLivesMatter.” – Kim Moore, 30 August 2014

In the first blessay post, I mention Benjamin’s work with provenance and privilege in regards to reproduction. How does audience response change based on the space in which they encounter an artifact? Like the Powell discussion, experiencing the physical can evoke a stronger pathos appeal, but how does this response shift when looking at born-digital content? How do we react differently when happening across #BLM and #Amerikkka tweets on our Twitter timeline versus seeing the compiled conversations of these same hashtags? What about when seeing hand-picked tweets on a different digital platform such as this WordPress site? Changing the way in which a reader encounters artifacts inevitably affects reader reception.

The digital space in which the artifacts—or tweets—are seen changes the impact thereof. For example, a tweet containing #Amerikkka that may appear on a user’s timeline and is mixed-in with tweets about other current events may not be as attention-grabbing as viewing the hashtag’s archival conversation. When viewed in passing, one voiced concern carries significantly less weight than hundreds of voices. To reflect on an earlier idea, though, these born-digital artifacts remove issues of needing authority to voice concerns.  Because they are  ‘originals’ and thus if one believes in an aura, then the human relationship to the digital words cannot be severed. The only limiting factors for those who want to contribute to Twitter’s archives are literacy and access to the necessary technology.

Image from Stacks Magazine 

Eric Garner and Michael Brown are two African American men whose deaths sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2014. Using the Advanced Search option on Twitter, I pulled tweets that used #BlackLivesMatter and #Amerikkka between the dates 1 July 2014 to 31 July 2014 and from 1 August 2014 to 10 August 2014. I did this in an attempt to compare #Amerikkka to #BlackLivesMatter.

More information about Eric Garner’s life and his altercation with the police from July 17th, 2014 can be read in this New York Times article. For more detailed information about the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown,  please reference this New York Times article.

Although I occasionally use #BLM as an abbreviation in my own writing, it is important to distinguish here that the hashtag I searched was #BlackLivesMatter because #BLM is its own hashtag.

The first two images predominately show the tense conversation that surrounds #Amerikkka, while the third photo shows the beginning of tweets using either the two hashtags after Garner’s death. Until the 18th, my search shows that #BlackLivesMatter was used significantly less often than #Amerikkka: less than five times in a two week time frame.

Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” also became a hashtag. These three words are featured on t-shirts, in songs, and now book titles.

Michael Brown’s associated hashtag is #Ferguson.

Between August 6th and 7th, #BlackLivesMatter began being used more commonly than #Amerikkka. In the 3rd screenshot, however, notice that there is a mix between the two. Generally, #Amerikkka critiques racism more specifically and is often accompanied by other vulgar diction connected to less-specific societal concerns. In contrast, #BlackLivesMatter–while still relevant to racism–focuses more on human-centered responses to remember the deceased.

“My skin is my sin ” -@DynamicJAB, 9 August 2014

Finally, although I focused on small portions of the hashtags’ conversations, even these smaller pieces are ‘living’ because, as mentioned earlier, tweets are not permanent and change based on users’ preferences. They also have the ability to be Retweeted or Favorited, which reproduces the tweets in new spaces. This reproduction and ease of access reiterate the flexibility of a hashtag’s archive. By reproducing this data here, I have not violated any ethical guidelines because the tweets that I am able to access are not from private accounts. Thus, their words are already available to the public, which means posting them here on a low-trafficked blog should not negatively impact the people whose tweets are featured here.

*In the future, I want to provide more quantitive data about usage, retweets, and favorites. I attempted to work with R studio and TwitteR to accomplish this endeavor; however, there are date restrictions pertaining to how long ago the tweets were posted and R’s relationship with the social media platform.

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