Stories and Strategies Podcast
Guest, Professor Candice Edrington, High Point University, South Carolina
Published July 19, 2020
Listen to this episode
Doug Downs (00:00):
Alicia Garza was at a gathering with friends in July, 2013 when the verdict from a trial that had captured the attention of so many was handed down. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, had admitted to shooting dead 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin the previous year. Martin had been unarmed on his way home from a convenience store. When the verdict was announced not guilty. Garza remembers everything went quiet in the room, and then people silently left the room. Garza says she cried herself to sleep that night, feeling incredibly vulnerable. She logged onto Facebook and wrote an impassioned message and ended it with black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter. Her friend, Patrice Cullors read the post and re-shared it using a hashtag. Black Lives Matter. Just a few years later this is a worldwide movement now with chapters not only in the United States, but in Canada too today on stories and strategies, tweeting a social movement, examining the strategies that get people involved. My name is Doug Downs. My guest today is Professor Candace Edrington and assistant Professor of Strategic Communication at High Point University in North Carolina. Professor Edrington, thank you for joining us today.
Candice Edrington (01:39):
Thank you for having me.
Doug Downs (01:41):
Professor Edrington is a public relations and strategic scholar who describes herself as a scholar activist. She has a PhD in communication rhetoric and digital media from NC State, a master’s in strategic communication with an emphasis in public relations from High Point University in North Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing from Winthrop University in South Carolina. Professor Edrington has service as an adjunct instructor, a PR consultant, coordinator of communications and director of Engagement.
Professor Edrington in 2018, you published a paper co-authored with Nicole Lee entitled, Tweeting a Social Movement, Black Lives Matter, and its use of Twitter to share information, build community, and promote action. Let’s begin with what classifies as a social movement.
Candice Edrington (02:39):
Absolutely. Well, I define social movements as an occurrence of collective action. Born outta confrontation and communicatively mobilized to implement change. What separates social movements from other instances, such as protest, is that they are un institutionalized. They are larger in scope. They typically encounter some opposition along the way, and they mainly rely on persuasion in their efforts to either bring about or resist change.
Doug Downs (03:09):
Okay. So that’s the key. This is a type of organic or grassroots movement that there is opposition, there’s conflict in some way, and it’s institutionalized. Okay. Tell me about what you studied here and how did you arrive at those three macro themes of messaging, information, community, and action.
Candice Edrington (03:32):
Well, it’s interesting because I actually didn’t develop these categories that credit belongs to scholars Lovejoy and Saxton, who are also communication scholars, and they created that typology in 2012 to explore how nonprofit organizations use Twitter. However, as a researcher who does explore the intersections of strategic communication and digital activism, I found it quite interesting that the literature I was reading and using at the time did not examine social movements use of Twitter. So I decided to dive into that and Nicole and I used Crimson Hexagon, which is a software to gain access to all the public tweets sent from the official Twitter page of Black Lives Matter over a four year period. And what we found from that information was that 59.9% of the tweets that they were sending were information focused. While 22.7% of those tweets were focused, and only 17.5% of those tweets were community focused. Although community focused tweets were least frequently used, they did have the most retweets.
Doug Downs (04:46):
And you studied thousands of tweets you were mentioning over a four year period. Roughly how many tweets was that?
Candice Edrington (04:53):
Well, there are actually over 16,000 tweets, but once we cleaned them up a little bit, taking out the and tweets that weren’t directly coming from their platform, we ended up with 2005.
Doug Downs (05:07):
Fascinating. Okay. Just to outline an information-based tweet, I wanna try to define these if I can. What would classify as an information-based tweet?
Candice Edrington (05:19):
An information-based tweet by this typology is a tweet that particularly shares information related to the cause or related to the organization itself.
Doug Downs (05:30):
Okay. A community based tweet?
Candice Edrington (05:32):
A community based tweet, looks at commemoration such as holidays or special events. It shares appreciation for those who are helping promote the cause and advocating on behalf of the call.
Doug Downs (05:45):
And an action based tweet?
Candice Edrington (05:48):
An action tweet is a tweet that kind of promotes action. So join this protest, sign this petition, join us for this purchase, this paraphernalia. So anything that is promoting action on behalf of the follower
Doug Downs (06:07):
With the community-based messaging. Why did that instigate the most response? It would seem that if this is about a call to action, that the calls to action type tweets would trigger the most response. But that that’s not what you found.
Candice Edrington (06:23):
That’s not what we found. And I think it’s interesting, given the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement and how it catapulted in the first place by using social media to discuss the death of unarmed black people, it makes sense that commemoration type post where you are honoring the memory of, let’s say, Trayvon Martin on the day of his death. That makes sense why that would get the most retweet outta all of those categories.
Doug Downs (06:51):
Social media, it’s fascinating. You explored this wonderful new channel and other communication channels. It means that no one is ever just the receiver of a message anymore because we can use social media or other channels like a website. We are all creators. We are all distributors. How has this changed communication and particularly how we strategically communicate about the need for social change?
Candice Edrington (07:19):
Well, social media platforms and other social networking sites are fascinating for sure. They have made way for citizen journalism and citizen journalists with mobile connectivity with a cell phone. Everyone has instant access to the internet as well as to other people across the world. We now have the ability to bypass traditional media gatekeepers, as you just said, and consume and or distribute the messages that are of particular importance to us. I think it’s definitely been beneficial for advocacy groups and activists, just like Black Lives Matter and other social movements. Particularly with this movement, though, the use of cell phones that have video capability to record these instances of police brutality as well as the sharing of these videos has been very strategic and that it has helped to increase the visibility of these injustices to those who may not necessarily be aware that this is actually happening.
Doug Downs (08:20):
Oh, great point. The television show, Blackish distributed by Disney, did an episode in 2016 called Hope, that included a scene that’s become known as the wake up scene. It’s not really an episode about police brutality nor nor about crime. It’s about a family conversation that black families are familiar with, but is completely foreign to most
Actor One (08:44):
The lawyer speaking.
TV Lawyer (08:46):
It’s important in the midst of all the public vilifying of the police department whose members acted completely within procedure to remember Mr. McQuillan was no angel
Actor Two (08:54):
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (08:55):
Why? What does that mean?
Rainbow Johnson, Mama (Blackish) (08:56):
Why They say that? Why would they even say that? What does that even mean?
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (08:58):
I’m talking about somebody’s child that could easily be one of these children here. That could have been one of us. Yes.
Rainbow Johnson, Mama (Blackish) (09:04):
No Sweetie. No, no, because if you get stopped by the cops, you are going to do exactly what they say. Okay.
Actor Five (09:08):
She’s right. Listen to me. If you have to talk to the cops, there’s only seven words you need to know. Yes sir. No, sir. And thank you, sir.
Rainbow Johnson, Mama (Blackish) (09:17):
Exactly. You make sure you live to fight your case in court. You hear me?
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (09:21):
No mama enough. Wake up. Let’s say they listen to the cops and get in the car. Look what happened to Freddie Gray. And what if they make it all the way to the station? You remember Sandra Bland, and let’s say they do make it to trial. You see where that gets us? Don’t you get it, Bo? The system is rigged against us.
Rainbow Johnson, Mama (Blackish) (09:41):
Maybe it is Dre, but I don’t wanna feel like my kids are living in a world that is so flawed that they can’t have any hope.
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (09:50):
Oh, so you wanna talk about hope Bo? Obama ran on hope. Remember when he got elected and we felt like maybe just maybe we got out of that bad place and made it to a good place that the whole country was really ready to turn the corner. You remember that amazing feeling we had during the inauguration. I was sitting right next to you and we were so proud, and we saw him get out of that limo and walk alongside of it and wave to that crowd. Tell me you weren’t terrified when you saw that. Tell me you weren’t worried that someone was going to snatch that hope away from us. They always do.
Is the real world Bo. And our children need to know that that’s the world that they live in.
Actor Two (10:51):
We’re protest across the country.
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (10:56):
So is watching.
Doug Downs (10:57):
That’s a powerful scene.
Dre, Dad (Blackish) (10:58):
Let’s see what they’re going to say next.
Candice Edrington (11:02):
It is, also an emotional scene for people who actually experienced that. Blackish is just actually one of my favorite shows, and just the feeling that came over me in thinking that this is our reality.
Doug Downs (11:18):
I’ve never had a conversation like that with my children. I have three. One of them he’s got his license and he just bought his car. So he’s out there driving around. It hasn’t even crossed my mind to have a conversation like that, and I can’t help but think that that’s an example of my white privilege. I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not invisible systems, conferring dominance. So how can we use communications to make the concept of privilege apparent and move toward equality?
Candice Edrington (11:54):
Unfortunately, this conversation is one of many that takes place in the black household as it relates to how we are treated differently than others based on our race. And it’s somewhat a foreign concept to those who don’t live it. And I think we’re starting to see that now through the use of communication, but also with companies like Procter and Gamble, for example, who are putting out these commercials such as the talk or the look or the choice. That gives you an insight into the conversations that we actually do have. I think before we can even begin to move toward equality, though, there has to be individual awareness of one’s privilege. And once that awareness is established and the concept of privilege becomes apparent to those who actually possess it, we can then use communication to move in the direction of equality. And we can do that by way of education then inequalities faced by black people.
They didn’t just start our stop with how we are treated by the police. It’s systemic in terms of employment, healthcare, education, housing. That education can take many different forms, such as watching documentaries, reading black literature. There are tons of resources that are now circulating the web, but it must include learning about the black experience at a bare minimum. And then after that education I think comes to action. We can use communication strategies to not only continuously share black stories, but to promote action that leads to change. So going back to that information, that action and that community type strategy.
Doug Downs (13:35):
Okay, individual awareness. So it’s okay for me to look at it through my eyes. In fact, I should. Professor Edrington, I, I’m a white male. I I’m in my fifties and I do genuinely consider myself to not be a racist, and I try to carry myself that way every day. Isn’t that enough?
Candice Edrington (13:55):
No. So I would say to not be a racist and being anti-racist are two different things, and we’re learning that a lot more now. You can not be a racist, but continue to be silent about racism. And to me, that equates to complicity. Racism isn’t just about the conscious and intentional acts, but also the covert and unintentional ones. We need anti-racist who are active participants in the dismantling of racism. Well, it won’t happen overnight, but we can effectively move towards equality by those who have privilege to out of racism, challenging systems racism.
Doug Downs (14:45):
Professor, thank you so much for your time today.
Candice Edrington (14:49):
Thank you so much for your time.
Doug Downs (14:51):
If you’d like to send a message to my guest, professor Candace Edington, you can email her at Highpoint University. It’s C E D R I N G email@example.com. If you liked what you heard and we’re hoping you choose to follow and rate this podcast on Apple Podcasts or whatever directory you’re listening on, also, would you do us a favor and recommend this podcast to one friend? And if you have an idea for an episode or you just want to tell us something, send us a note at info@firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.