‘We all we got’: How Black community online steered the spotlight to Shanquella Robinson’s death | WFAE 90.7


Originally published by The 19th.

Shanquila Robinson’s death could have easily fallen through the cracks. In the first two weeks after the 25-year-old from North Carolina was announced dead during a group vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, her story was limited to a few local news reports. It seems her death will be treated like many black women and girls - with quick, if any, attention from the news media. But then a video of a woman being beaten came to light, and the news of her death spread far and wide.

One tweet from North Carolina blogger Mina Lu with the caption, “Rest in Power Shanquella Robinson” got more than 50,000 likes and nearly 17,000 retweets. Since then, national news organizations including CNN and the New York Times have picked up on Robinson’s story, highlighting the power and potential of black media platforms. From the murder of Lauren Smith-fields last year to Robinson last month, black people on the internet have been a driving force behind raising stories about missing and murdered black women and girls in the absence of mainstream media.

Black women and girls face high rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and homicide. However, their cases are rarely dealt with urgently. Robinson’s case is notable for the level of attention she’s received not only because of her family’s advocacy, but also because of black-owned blogs and social media accounts that have redistributed the video and emerging details, bringing it to a wider audience.

Twitter and Black online resistance, said Dr. Meredith Clark, an associate professor of journalism and communication studies at Northeastern University who researches Black. “It reaffirms something we say a lot — ‘it’s all we got’ — and that, to me, is an example of what that looks like in the context of the news media.”

From Ida B. Wells’ investigations into lynchings in the South to the role of the black press in uncovering the truth about the murder of Emmett Till, black media have historically been vital sources of information about violence against black people, particularly when the mainstream media has ignored their stories Through systemic bias and racism.

“This is where we can go and send our messages,” said Nicole Carr, a journalist for ProPublica and a professor at Morehouse College who teaches a course on social justice journalism.

Recently, and especially over the past decade, social media has become a popular tool for gathering and sharing information related to social and racial justice. It’s where the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born in 2013, as activists, scholars, and others strategically used hashtags and other messages to quickly spread information to the general public.

“On matters of social justice, particularly where it pertains to our community, we provide through those platforms the necessary leads to get major outlets to pay attention,” Carr said. She added that for journalists, in particular, social media can provide a springboard for their coverage. Journalists may see a claim on social media and decide to follow up with a public records request to see if there is any validity to it.

“I’m not comparing Twitter users to black journalism as a whole. I’m just saying that we’ve always found spaces to amplify important messages and spread the word, even when we can’t do it in so-called mainstream spaces,” Carr said.

Specific elements of Robinson’s case also stood out, adding to the public’s shock and awareness.

The video and contradictory accounts of her death brought her case to wider attention. The details made public also left many social media users wondering how someone could travel with people who appeared to be her friends and then violently die less than 24 hours later.

People who traveled with Robinson returned to the United States and told her parents that she had died of alcohol poisoning. However, their stories were inconsistent with the information on her death certificate posted online on November 16. The autopsy report lists Robinson’s cause of death as a severed spinal cord and neck trauma. He made no mention of alcohol poisoning.

On the same day, Twitter users soon began posting a video showing a naked woman being viciously attacked by another woman. In multiple media reports, Robinson’s mother has confirmed that the naked woman is her daughter. In the background of the video, a man can be heard saying, “Quella, can you at least resist?”

After the video was released, Mexican authorities announced that they were investigating Robinson’s death as femicide - the killing of a woman on the basis of sex. On November 18, the FBI confirmed its involvement in the case.

An arrest warrant has been issued in Mexico for one person in connection with Robinson’s death.

“Black Twitter was responsible for amplifying clear evidence of wrongdoing,” Carr said.

Media researchers and criminal law researchers told The 19th that Robinson’s story may have gone unnoticed in a sea of ​​other evolving news stories across the country without video circulation.

People tend to enter stories through the dominant visual element. It’s usually a photograph but videos too. The video of the attack garnered a lot of attention as a very clear indication that something was wrong, said Dr. Danielle Slakoff, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sacramento State University who studies media portrayals of female crime victims.

Over the years, video has been “one of the critical tools to help people understand crisis as it strikes,” Clark said, in cases where black people are being harmed, citing the nearly nine-minute video of the May 2020 killing of George Floyd as one example.

She added that in addition to the video, there is a relative factor. Many people have experienced going on a group vacation or a girls’ trip. The violence that leads to Robinson’s death is a shocking turn of events.

Robinson’s mother told NBC News that she attributes the attention her daughter’s case has received to black social media. Research shows that such widespread coverage is rare for women of color, especially black women and girls, who are often overlooked.

Slakov and her research team analyzed news coverage of missing black and white women and girls in 11 US newspapers over a four-year period. Missing black girls and women account for about 20 percent of the stories they have seen, Slakoff said, although they account for an estimated 34 percent of missing persons.

In a separate study, Slakoff also found a difference in the media’s portrayal of white and black women’s crime victims. White women are portrayed as more sympathetic while black women are portrayed as complicit in the violence against them by highlighting details such as their level of drunkenness or clothing at the time.

The number of news stories and the way those stories are told can make a difference in these criminal cases, Slakov said. “There’s a very long history of white women and girls being seen as the perfect victim,” she said. “They are seen as in need of protection. So basically, they are seen as deserving of our attention, but they are also seen as deserving of our resources.”

The disproportionate attention white women receive from the media, the public, and the police has come to be referred to as “the missing white woman syndrome”. Over the past year, national attention to the disappearance of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, a white woman, as well as the HBO documentary “Black and Missing” have reinvigorated conversations about these injustices.

In light of the skewed attention from the news media and law enforcement, Black Twitter has been important in raising awareness and questions about the deaths of Black women other than the Robinson case.

In the aftermath of the 2020 police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT student, initial reports named her a possible suspect, while many news outlets did not report her death at all. Louisville-based writer and activist Hannah Drake helped bring attention to Taylor’s death on social media, changing the media narrative about the circumstances of Taylor’s death.

In May of that year, Erin Haines, editor-at-large of Nineteen Newspapers, reported on Taylor’s death, prompting other mainstream news outlets to follow suit, making it a national story. After repeated calls for accountability, the officers involved in Taylor’s death were eventually charged.

In another case, black social media users on TikTok amplified the story of Lauren Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old black woman who was found dead in December 2021 after spending the night with an older white man she met on a dating app. stutter.

Fields’ autopsy results indicated that the cause of her death was the result of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol, but friends and family said she was not a drug addict and called on the police to do more. After criticism from Black TikTok users about the differential treatment between white and black victims, more mainstream media began covering her death. Her case is still open.

Despite more national conversations about prejudice against black women victims, the researchers told The 19th that they believe black social media will continue to take responsibility for sharing these stories.

All of this is also happening at a time when digital communities made up of historically marginalized groups, such as Black Twitter, are facing questions about their future after billionaire Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover of the platform.

Questions about the future of Twitter, Clark said, relate to how black people can stand up for missing and murdered black women and girls. “It’s integral in thinking about how marginalized communities can share information and gaining traction around stories that would otherwise not get attention.”