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Social media activism the subject of recent discussion

On Nov. 6 the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquium Series held its second discussion of the fall semester. Dr. Judith Rosenbaum gave the talk titled “#TakingAKnee: Exploring justice, respect, and patriotism on Instagram and Twitter.”

Rosenbaum is an assistant professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine whose research includes social and health effects of media. The theme of this talk surrounded creating meaning on social media platforms. It featured discussion on the hashtag #TakingAKnee and how this social movement has opened a new dialogue nationwide.

Rosenbaum recognized that Colin Kaepernick played a large role in initiating the protest against police brutality. From there, other celebrities took to social media to demonstrate support while others, especially those involved in the Blue Lives Matter movement, feverishly declared it as a sign of disrespect.

By September 2017, the issue was magnified when President Donald J. Trump shared his opinion on the #TakingAKnee issue on Twitter. The president told the Dori Monson Show, “I think it’s personally not a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing, and, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.”

According to Rosenbaum, previously unheard voices can now be heard through social media. Public discussion through hashtags can now give a voice to marginalized groups.

The colloquium also discussed the role of technology — social media specifically — and how media gives users awareness and a choice of actions in constructing an environment that helps to understand identity.

Rosenbaum’s study looked at how people use Twitter and Instagram. More specifically, she discussed how the #TakeAKnee movement developed and how people used that in the construction of a collective national identity.

By looking at all the public tweets using the hashtags related to #TakeAKnee between Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, 2017, Rosenbaum identified four frequent themes: freedom, equality and justice, unity, and respect and honor.

These were topics brought up by both supporters and opponents of Colin Kaepernick and the movement as a whole.

Rosenbaum found that the two social media platforms were used to discuss these subjects in different manners.

On Twitter, people were more likely to present facts and inject narratives. On Instagram, people were more likely to share photos or political cartoons, they rarely disagreed in the comments and were more likely to simply use the hashtags without elaborating or giving context.

Both social media platforms shared similar narratives. Supporters often discussed ideas of equality and justice. Opponents expressed themes of neoliberalism and freedom.

“Americans share and discuss many of the same themes but under a different narrative which makes them seem at different odds,” Jen Bonnet, social sciences and humanities librarian at the Raymond H. Fogler Library, said. “What I found most telling from [Rosenbaum’s] research was how people of various political persuasions rely on similar language and ideas of American-ness to make very different claims about their positions. Perhaps in some way, this may eventually lead to opportunities to talk across difference and find some common ground.”

The WGS Colloquium Series is held in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union on Tuesdays, 12:30-1:30 p.m. The next event will be on Dec. 4. For more information contact Laurie Cartier at or visit their website at

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