How news sources and social media shape St. Louis’s views on Ferguson

I lived in St. Louis during college and return to the area annually. In August, while Twitter friends bemoaned the lack of Ferguson concern in their Facebook timelines, I posted (a bit smugly) the following in reference to what I saw in mine:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 8.35.27 PM Last weekend, I attended a wedding in St. Louis. There, I was surprised to hear uninformed and disinterested reactions to the continued protests, reactions that differed from my curated Twitter and Facebook feeds. The protesters were described as “thugs.” They were “all from Chicago,” coming to “disrupt” St. Louis. When told a protest was passing outside the ceremony space (after the ceremony), one wedding party attendee asked what was being protested.

“Police violence.”

“Oh, it’s always that. Hopefully it will be over by the time we finish here.”

As mentioned, my social network feeds are organized to include perspectives that largely match my own. For this project, I want to study St. Louis residents’ understanding and opinions about Ferguson and how that differs depending on the news sources and social networks they follow. Are protests against police violence largely seen as an inconvenience? Do they consider the protestors thugs? What is the understanding of what happened in Ferguson on August 9th?

In August, the Pew Research Center reported the “sharply different” reactions of blacks and whites to Ferguson. Has this changed in the passing months?

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.13.58 PM
There has already been writing about how Facebook’s algorithm showed people ice bucket challenges while Twitter exploded with Ferguson news. In scouring St. Louis Facebook friends’ timelines (the ones I don’t know to be actively involved in protests), I saw a lot of ice buckets, and occasionally, a Ferguson post. Are the Facebook updates limited because people are unsure what to say, what they feel, or because talking about race is so divisive? As Casey Johnston says, “…political events on Facebook can play well, so long as the majority of population is going to fall on the same side: the story of the Boston Marathon bombers played big on Facebook because it was unifying, but arguments about their race and religion, not so much.”

To answer these questions, I’d like to conduct a survey (and possibly interviews). I plan to reach out to St. Louis friends via email, Facebook, and Twitter to get volunteers. The survey will be conducted and analyzed using Google forms. I would also like to look at participants’ social media (Facebook and Twitter timelines, if they have them).

I would like to have the survey ready by Monday, October 27th and will start asking for volunteers and sending out the survey that week. I will close the survey after two weeks (around November 10th) and use the following weeks to analyze the results and do any follow-ups. I foresee reporting my findings in a blog post, though I am open to other suggestions (I also hope to think of a better title for the project before it’s due).

Sources:

Johnston, Casey. 2014. “Facebook’s Route to Becoming a Reassurance Machine.” Ars Technicahttp://arstechnica.com/business/2014/08/how-facebook-might-fix-its-trivial-viral-content-glut/ (October 20, 2014).
Pew Research Center. 2014. “Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Presshttp://www.people-press.org/2014/08/18/stark-racial-divisions-in-reactions-to-ferguson-police-shooting/ (October 16, 2014).
Sullivan, Gail. 2014. “How Facebook and Twitter Control What You See about Ferguson.” The Washington Posthttp://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/19/how-facebook-and-twitter-control-what-you-see-about-ferguson/ (October 20, 2014).
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2014. “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: — The Message.” Mediumhttps://medium.com/message/ferguson-is-also-a-net-neutrality-issue-6d2f3db51eb0 (October 20, 2014).
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