The impact of Twitter in sparking social movements is widely well-known. Using hashtags to develop social movements — think #BlackLivesMatter — create instant communities and conversations — ones that, perhaps, would never have happened without this social media tool.
But Twitter’s now commonplace. It’s expected. It thrived and transformed social movements in Egypt, Iran, and with #OccupyWallStreet, among other initiatives across the world. But one particular social media tool made waves this past summer and throughout the year in Ferguson, Mo. as protestors, citizens, and journalists reported the events that unfolded. This tool is Vine — a social media application that allows users to create short loops of video.
In Ferguson, this platform allowed viewers from all over the world to watch protests and videos as they were happening. Twitter has the world’s need for instant information down by now, but it lacked the video capabilities at the time to enhance the narratives the platform could tell. And, during protests in Ferguson, Mo., Vine filled that spot.
Throughout the protests, which took place largely in August 2014 and are still continuing today, journalists and citizens used Vine to show the events in real time. Most notably, Antonio French, the alderman of the 21st ward of Ferguson and notable citizen journalist, took Vines of different protests and marches.
This Vine from mid-August 2014 received 136,592 loops — meaning it was played that many times.
But as French’s fame rose with his status as the premiere citizen journalist for the events in Ferguson, his Vines specifically received more recognition. In late November, French took this powerful Vine of Michael Brown’s mother as she spoke to media:
This particular Vine received 1,550,672 loops as of Wednesday evening. And that’s extraordinary.
The value of citizen journalism rose during the protests in Ferguson, and so did the use of Vine. In this article by The Guardian, Dan Gillmor lauds French and journalists Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post for documenting these events — especially as they were taken into custody. Lowery responded to the potential arrest by taking out his phone and shooting video.
“But the videos, blog posts, tweets, and photos from French and others on the ground have complemented the work of the traditional journalists on the scene – and have reminded us of what is becoming a civic duty in today’s America.” — The Guardian
So, according to The Guardian, shooting video of the actions around us is a civic duty. That’s pretty powerful.
And The Guardian wasn’t the only organization to recognize Vine’s impact in Ferguson. The International Business Times wrote French’s vines “have been especially illuminating to social media users who may wonder from the pictures and videos if they are looking at America or the Middle East.” Photos and written descriptions provided by Twitter still had a lasting impact, but perhaps seeing the events in motion and in real time provided a new view outlook for social media users.
By using this tool as a citizen or a reporter in social justice movements, others may gain a better understanding of the emotion and drive behind protests and calls to action. And perhaps this builds support — or opposition — to these events even more than they would without the platform of Vine.
What Vine does which other platforms can’t is give the viewer snippets of real action in real time. To accommodate with this perhaps threatening competition, Twitter recently launched the ability to shoot video on the app and post directly to it. Just like Vine, but now on Twitter. If that decision means anything, it suggests the strong, worldwide impact of Vine. And for activists, journalists, and regular citizens, alike, it provided a more honest, raw, and realistic view of the events in Ferguson than any other platform could provide in real time.