Jun 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The massive power of the George Floyd protests

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

No other social change movement in the Trump era has come close to the intensity of social media attention forged in the wake of the George Floyd killing, according to data provided exclusively by NewsWhip.

Why it matters: The power of this movement can be seen in the concrete changes made as local, state and federal government grapple with how policing across the country can be reformed.

By the numbers: In the last month — counting the week even before the movement began with Floyd's killing — there were 1.04 billion social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) on stories related to police conduct, police reform, racial inequality, Black Lives Matter and the cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

  • That's far more than the next biggest social change movement over a 28-day period during the Trump era: the fight for gun control following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. in February 2018. That event drew 153 million interactions.
  • The third biggest was the backlash to Trump administration immigration policies in June and July 2018, including ICE practices and family separation (121 million interactions).
  • The #MeToo movement generated momentum over a longer time period and didn't spike as sharply over a four-week period, topping out at 44 million interactions. (Note: This analysis uses #MeToo in September 2018 because the issue picked up more momentum than in October 2017.)

According to Google Trends, searches related to Black Lives Matter during the week of May 31 dwarfed the peak for all of these topics.

  • There were 64% more searches than the second-most searched issue — abortion and reproductive rights in May of last year after conservative Southern states passed restrictive laws.

The big picture: This story has sustained momentum because it branched in so many directions — from the respective cases of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery to the protests against police brutality, Trump's response to those protests, systemic racism in America and policy dialogue about how to reform policing.

Yes, but: Social change movements often suffer from fleeting interest as other news events push them out of the limelight.

  • While interest in this racial justice movement has fallen considerably from a peak of 128 million interactions on June 1, it is still intense: it continues to generate more interactions on a daily basis than the coronavirus, and its engagement at this juncture is still well beyond that of other movements.

The bottom line: For many social movements, there is a short period of passion, but that enthusiasm often fizzles and change doesn't get enacted. We've seen that happen with the Greta Thunberg-led climate protests, the Occupy ICE movement and the reaction to mass shootings.

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