Examining negative online social reaction to police use of force: the George Floyd and Jacob Blake events

Olivier Péloquin*, Francis Fortin, Sarah Paquette

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Dealing with use of excessive force by the police has historically been a struggle in the United States. The 1992 protests in Los Angeles following the death of Rodney King are one example of public response to an instance of excessive use of force. More recently, the death of George Floyd led to widespread protests against excessive use of force and the current model of policing in general. The increasing popularity and availability of social media over the past decade have made it a powerful tool for mobilizing citizens and provided a place for protest. This study looks at the negative reactions of social media users to police use of force in the United States based on analysis of two significant instances: the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Using quantitative, forensic linguistics, and advanced topic modelling methodologies, three prominent aspects of policing identified in the literature – excessive use of force, racial bias, and legitimacy – were analysed from 14 days of tweets following each event. Analyses deal with trends in frequency, case similarities, and topic modelling. The results show important differences in negative online reaction to the two events, particularly regarding excessive use of force: those following the Floyd death focused on the technicalities of the intervention, while those responding to the Blake death focused on its aftermath. Analysis of tweets related to racial bias and police legitimacy revealed similar patterns, with users repeating criticisms such as differential treatment according to race and the need for changes in the policing model. The results also suggest that perceptions of excessive use of force and racial bias are deeply intertwined. Implications and issues are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-81
Number of pages29
JournalCanadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Volume64
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • online media reaction
  • social media
  • topic modelling
  • Twitter
  • use of force

Cite this