The tragic massacre of nine Charleston citizens in a historic black church has reignited a controversy over the confederate flag, which still flies at full mast outside the South Carolina state capital. The debate over the confederate flag has burned for decades, with some calling the rebel flag a harmless symbol of southern heritage, and others calling it a symbol of hate on par with the Nazi swastika.
N.A.A.C.P. National President Cornell William Brooks said after the killings that the Dixie flag is nothing more than an “emblem of hate.” Now, activists and their supporters are using social media to further that message, spreading hashtags like “#takedownthatflag.”
So-called internet “hacktivists” are often criticized for armchair activism, following the path of least resistance. But social media is increasingly integrated with offline protests, such as the popular hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which went viral earlier this year.
Some online activists are taking a page from the digital marketing playbook and reaping the benefits of social media marketing. Content creation is an increasingly popular strategy for marketers, with 92% calling it “somewhat” to “very” effective. So in addition to tweets and hashtags, others are creating video and photo content of themselves burning the confederate flag.
The #BurnThatFlag stunt recalls the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge; by creating short videos and photos of flag burning, social media activists provide fuel for the content fire. Nearly 27 million pieces of content are shared online daily, and media outlets are always thirsty for click-ready content.
Plus, educators like Edward E. Baptist, a history professor at Cornell University, have been using their Twitter feeds to give impromptu micro-lectures about the true legacy of the confederate flag.
Baptist tweeted, “The stars and bars was also a symbol of terror: of the violent intimidation of African Americans who dared assert their rights.”
South Carolina lawmakers are taking notice of the spreading outrage; this week they overwhelmingly voted to open debate on the issue.