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Social media lets the world know about Ferguson

Stephon Johnson | 8/21/2014, 4:20 p.m.

On Aug. 9, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo. police officer, Darren Wilson. Brown’s body was left in the street for almost four hours, while a crowd gathered around to record video on their phones, take pictures and lambast the cops for the shooting and the treatment of Brown’s body. Brown was eventually dumped into the back seat of a sports utility vehicle, instead of an EMS van, and taken away.

Anyone who was on Facebook or Twitter knew most of those details. If you were watching major news networks such as CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, you were in the dark for almost a week.

The exchange of information on social media of the Brown story showcased the good, the bad and the ugly of modern-day journalism. With information coming at such a rapid pace, there were those who were bound to get something wrong. Anonymous, on several occasions, named the wrong officer involved in the Brown shooting. But if it weren’t for social media pressure, Wilson’s name would not have been revealed in the first place.

Ferguson residents on social media took pictures and started trending topics via hashtags that brought attention to the situation. One of those topics, including the “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown” hashtag, where Black social media members put up two photos of themselves and discussed which one the media would use if they were killed by police. It was an open criticism of the mainstream media and their tendencies to use the most “threatening” picture of a Black person when discussing similar instances (i.e., Trayvon Martin’s killing by George Zimmerman).

With social media running the show, the police (and law enforcement in general) have not been able to control the narrative. Eyewitness accounts from people at the scene of the shooting went up on YouTube the day of the incident. It took authorities almost 10 days to say that they had close to a dozen witnesses who could corroborate their side of the story, which involved Brown attacking the officer and reaching for his gun.

Twitter has made a star of St. Louis alderman, Antonio French, who’s been posting videos on Vine and documenting events through Twitter as the protests continue. From the calming of protesters to incidents with the police, from his own arrest to his release, French has recorded it all and has developed a trust among the people of Ferguson and abroad as a go-to source for relevant and accurate information.

As for the police, the length of time between the shooting and the police revealing Wilson’s name, robbery accusations against Brown and presenting possible witnesses looked suspicious to those who went to work immediately on social media. Even if the results are genuine, an air of suspicion hangs over them and—along with the arrests and tear-gassing of protesters—has contributed to further distrust of the authorities.

With the current images, eyewitness accounts and Instagram videos of protests in Ferguson, America might have its version of the Arab Spring.