Jun 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

#BlackLivesMatter tweets vanishing

Demonstrators held a banner with the motto of the black civil rights movement with the twitter hashtag "Black Lives Matter" to show their solidarity worldwide with African Americans in the US in Berlin, Germany, 10 July 2016.

Demonstrators in Berlin hold a banner with the Twitter hashtag "Black Lives Matter" to show their solidarity worldwide with Black Americans in the US in July 2016. Photo: Wolfram Kastl/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Ten years after #BlackLivesMatter began on Twitter, more than a third of tweets with the hashtag have disappeared, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Why it matters: The vanishing tweets come as users delete posts, make accounts private, face suspension or leave Twitter altogether following the Elon Musk-led takeover of the platform in October.

The big picture: The purge makes it hard to archive the historic record of the Black Lives Matter movement, which utilized social media to bring attention to George Floyd's murder and organize worldwide demonstrations.

Details: About 35% of #BlackLivesMatter tweets created between 2013 and 2021 are no longer available on Twitter, an analysis released Thursday using past data collection efforts found.

  • Out of all the #BlackLivesMatter tweets posted between May and September 2020, during the height of the Floyd demonstrations, 40% are no longer accessible, the Pew Research Center study said.
  • The analysis is based on tweets tagged with #BlackLivesMatter that were publicly available as of spring 2023.

Zoom out: More than 44 million tweets with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag exist on Twitter today, the report said.

  • About 72% of all #BlackLivesMatter tweets expressed support for the movement or its broader objectives. Just 11% express opposition.

Flashback: The phrase "Black lives matter" first appeared in a July 2013 Facebook post by activist Alicia Garza, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

  • #BlackLivesMatter as a hashtag quickly spread to other social media sites like Twitter. Its use surged after high-profile police shootings of Black residents over the past 10 years.

The intrigue: Sam Bestvater, a computational social scientist at the Pew Research Center, told Axios researchers can't point to one reason why tweets are disappearing.

  • "While modern protest movements may have come to rely on social media platforms pretty considerably, these platforms weren't really designed to be cultural archives," Bestvater said.,
  • "The records they contain can degrade over time, and they might not be around forever."
  • Bestvater said it's unclear if the #BlackLivesMatter tweets were scrapped before or after the Musk takeover.

Between the lines: Twitter saw a rise in hate speech after its acquisition by led by Musk, who has used to platform to spread conspiracy theories and attack Black Lives Matter and trans activists.

For the record: Twitter did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Don't forget: Americans' support for the Black Lives Matter movement has fallen to its lowest point since the murder of George Floyd three years ago, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults released this month.

  • A slim majority of Americans (51%) still back BLM, but the movement aimed at tackling systemic racism has seen a sharp drop in support amid a conservative backlash.
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