Young people gather at a memorial for Michael Brown. Photo: Brett Myers, Young Radio.
Much of the meta-coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri, tragedy has stressed the apparent importance of social media in focusing attention and fanning the flames. The NPR program On the Media had a story on August 14, 2014 which, in part, spoke in wonderment about how much Ferguson was a social media event and that because of social media people know so much more about the events and are therefore mobilized more than ever before. Maybe.
What is striking in historical perspective is that, however vast the media apparatus may be, the disturbances have not spread. Forty or so years ago, before the computer, internet, and smartphone, the fury in African-American neighborhoods spread from city to city quite rapidly. But not now. How come? (This post is partly a revisit to an earlier one on social media and protest.)
Back in the Day
In the 1960s, there were a few periods in which the nation witnessed a swarm of violent disorders—called riots or rebellions, depending on your politics—in African-American neighborhoods across a number of cities. While the...