The May death of 46-year-old George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, and the subsequent protests across the United States and globally, led lawmakers from around the world to social media to discuss race relations, according to a new analysis from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center.
The research shows that almost half of lawmakers who are active on Twitter in four countries — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — posted messages referencing Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests. Floyd was African American.
“Prior to George Floyd's killing, very few had used the phrase Black Lives Matter or hashtags related to that movement, only about 4%. And now we see that after George Floyd's killing, those who are weighing in on these topics shoots up to about half,” said Kat Devlin, a Pew research associate who spoke to VOA via Skype.
Black Lives Matter protests were held in London and cities across Britain, as well as Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland and elsewhere.
Devlin said events in the U.S. sparked renewed debates on domestic race relations in many countries.
“Sixty-nine percent (of legislators) in Australia who were talking about George Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement also began to talk about Indigenous people in their countries — the same with a majority of the legislators in New Zealand,” Devlin said.
Almost two-thirds of all British lawmakers using Twitter posted messages about George Floyd or Black Lives Matter. Around a third posted tweets critical of U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of the protests.
Most tweeted support and solidarity for the protesters. Many used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to highlight perceived racial inequality in Britain.
One widely shared June 1 tweet from British Labor Party MP Clive Lewis compared the situation in the United States to that in Britain:
“Any liberal democracy, including our own, where historic wealth accumulation is inextricably linked to racist ideology will be capable of #GeorgeFloyd levels of racial injustice. It’s not an accusation, simply the current reality.”
Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a Black lawyer and political activist based in Britain, told VOA that the debate in the U.S. resonates across the Atlantic.
“The protests in solidarity, for instance, in the United Kingdom — personally, I don't think that's just about the U.S. It's also recognizing that these this systemic racism exists here in the U.K.,” Mos-Shogbamimu said in a Skype interview at the time of the London protests. “And social media platforms have become the wireless platform to communicate this information worldwide, in real time, instantly.”
Not all lawmakers’ tweets expressed solidarity with the protests. Twenty percent of British legislators’ posts were critical of the demonstrations in Britain. Five percent of these posts made reference to the coronavirus pandemic, criticizing the large gatherings and accusing authorities of double standards for allowing the protesters to congregate despite social distancing and lockdown measures in force at the time.
“Legislators were talking about the coronavirus in respect to the protests, but then also turned that conversation to the fact that non-white groups within the U.K. are suffering worse outcomes,” Devlin noted.
In Australia, Sen. Pauline Hanson of the One Nation Party wrote on Twitter June 8: "ANGER OVER DOUBLE STANDARDS GROWS: Premiers are facing a growing backlash over Covid-19 social-distancing restrictions after allowing tens of thousands of protestors to defy health warnings & attend Black Lives Matter rallies."
Hanson recently shared an article on Twitter that described the Black Lives Matter movement as “neo-Marxist.”
In the weeks since Floyd’s death, statues of slave traders have been torn down, colonial histories are being rewritten, and demands for racial equality have become louder, amplified by social media. In the United States, the House of Representatives last month voted to rid the Capitol of Confederate statues. It is not clear if the measure will be brought to a vote in the Senate.
Trump has described the destruction of Civil War-era statues and other memorials, including those honoring Christopher Columbus, as an attempt to cleanse the U.S. of its history.