In the last few weeks, we have seen the power of social media to create, sustain, and mobilize entire movements.
Across the world, people have been sharing information and resources, and collectively addressing issues and speaking their truth on the realities of racism and hatred that so many have felt deeply and personally for centuries.
What I’ve also noticed, from gleaning the ways someone’s painful last moments on earth, the moments that are many times robbed from them, become a hashtag, is the way that social media is a place where people can tell these stories themselves, knowing someone, anyone, will hear them.
Many times its people of marginalized identities, who fear that the mainstream media won’t hear their stories, or won’t tell them right, that go to social media to speak their truth themselves.
Whether it’s sharing encounters with racist women like the Amy Coopers of the world, or sharing the painful stories of family members who have had their lives violently taken, social media, mainly Twitter and Instagram, are where many Black, Indigenous, and people of colour feel comfortable sharing their realities, because they can do so themselves.
Social media platforms become a way to even out the playing field: where traditionally, mainstream media are the gatekeepers to information, to storytelling, and to being this authoritative figure to call out abuses of power and injustice, in their failing, mainly Black Indigenous and people of colour are taking matters into their own hands and telling stories from their own experiences, from their own mouths on their social media platforms, where more people like them are able to empathize, listen, and tell them their story matters.
As a journalist, I've found many stories that I've covered directly from social media, because most of the time, its Black and Indigenous, and people of colour, who share their stories firsthand on social media, due to a general distrust of traditional media, and for good reason.
They go to social media because they can trust that they have control over their own stories, and the narratives built around them, and that in a news cycle that moves on so fast, their lived experiences won't get lost in the sea of voices, sometimes more powerful voices, around them.
This is why it’s more important than ever to continue to amplify the voices of these groups of people when they speak out on injustices, abuses, or violence they are or have faced, and to take action in whatever ways we can, to hold those behind these acts of violence accountable.
On Twitter, in the last few weeks, at the same time the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations of anti-Blackness were taking place, an online #MeToo movement was happening on Twitter.
Men and women came forward, to share their stories, name their abusers, or simply share the age they were when they were assaulted. These people may not have felt comfortable going to police, or naming their abusers in the media, but they did feel comfortable speaking out on social media, because they knew that somebody, somewhere, would read those words and relate.
They knew that although speaking out wouldn’t change their painful reality, it would finally allow them to feel heard.
And that’s why we always need to be here to listen.
Trigger Warning: Sexual and physical violence.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, a Black woman and Black Lives Matter activist, who was so vocal in protests held in her home city, acting as a leading voice in her community, speaking to cameras and making her pain visible to those who would listen, to convey the message that all Black Lives Matter.
“At the end of the day, I cannot take my f***ing skin colour off. I cannot mask this s*** okay? Everywhere I f***ing go, I’m profiled, whether I like it or not. I’m looked at whether I like it or not. I can’t take this off. Guess what? I’ma die about it. I’ma die about my f***ing skin. You cannot take my Blackness away from me. My Blackness is not for your f***ing consumption.
Toyin was vocal on Twitter, sharing difficulties she was having with her family at home, and her home not being a safe space for her. After a protest, she was looking for somewhere safe to stay, after spending hours in the heat preaching about why Black Lives Matter -- actively, fighting for Black lives.
Toyin was assaulted by someone who had pretended to provide a safe space for her. Afterwards, she immediately took to Twitter, to share what had happened, including details of the incident and the man involved.
Days later, she went missing and tragically, was found murdered. A suspect in custody admitted to the crime, and to the killing of another woman, Vicki Sims.
I share this story because her life mattered.
Her story, and in her words, her Blackness, is not for consumption. Her story of a system that failed her, matters.
In her pain, she took to social media because she knew someone would hear her -- actually hear her, not in the form of creating a headline, or interrogating the truth in her claims, but to listen, and to truly support her.
Someone, somewhere would care, even if her story wouldn’t have initially made the front page of a paper -- even if it absolutely should have.
It’s a shame we weren’t able to help Toyin while she was alive, but by hearing and sharing her story, hearing and sharing her name, and by continuing to listen and act when people are in pain, we can use platforms like social media to make sure people feel heard, and supported in ways traditional institutions may not be able to.
People will continue to tell their stories where someone will hear them, and we just have to be there to listen, to mobilize, to act, and to hold those responsible accountable -- particularly where other institutions have failed or silenced those trying to speak out.
We cannot let another person's story be heard only when it is too late.