How Black Lives Matter protests sparked interest, can lead to change

Submitted by Ari Asercion on

Sociology assistant professor Jelani Ince co-authored a study with Zackary Dunivin at Indiana University on the shift in public discourse around race following Black Lives Matter protests. The study shows how protests can create momentum to the larger cause, and evaluates the impact of these protests by taking data from social media, news coverage and online search engines. Researchers created a list of more than three dozen terms to search for, such as “systemic racism,” “prison abolition” and others that are associated with Black Lives Matter’s themes and the concept of anti-racism.

The study found that during Black Lives Matter protests, people search for these terms up to 100 times more than they did in the weeks prior to the protests. Over time, these “spikes” in searches for terms related to Black Lives Matter have expanded to include other ideas: In the early years of the study period, searches for “police shootings” and the names of victims of police homicide were common; in 2020, searches included topics like “prison abolition” and “redlining.”

“As social scientists, we know that change is not an inevitability, but requires persistence from actors over time. This shift in discourse is a reflection of change in the political terrain,” Ince said. “It shows that the movement is evolving. It’s not just a moment, it’s an accumulation.”

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