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How Has our Digital Culture Affected Governments in 2020/21?

Social media has been everyone’s best friend during the pandemic, providing us with entertainment, information, and a connection to the outside world. However, governments across the world may care to disagree as our digital culture has allowed stories to be shared, which make them look like absolute fools and have forced them to change their ways. 


1. The storming of the Capitol 

The storming of the Capitol was an unexpected beginning to what we thought would be a refreshing 2021. For years we’ve watched Trump’s tweets get more and more outrageous, up until the recent events of him saying the election had been rigged. Although many of us thought it was funny to see him taking losing so badly, his followers were taking it all very seriously. 


Trump supporters, such as those in the groups QAnon, MAGA and the Proud Boys, began using social media to organise the storming of the Capitol, in order to answer what they saw as Donald Trump’s cry for help. It wasn’t the dark corners of the internet where this was planned, but right in front of us on major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. They exchanged details of their plans, such as what weapons to bring, with one saying ‘pack a crowbar’, and another ‘I’m bringing rope’. ‘Storm the Capitol’ was posted more than 100,000 times in the 30 days before the 6th of January. Despite researchers cataloguing and publishing their findings of the social media riot plans, the police outside the Capitol were completely unprepared. 


Ironically, the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters brought consequences to Trump like never before. His social media accounts were taken away, a second impeachment (the first time in history a president has been impeached twice) and a loss of business, with the PGA pulling out of hosting at his golf course. The rioters have also finally begun to face consequences. Although many weren’t arrested on the day, the FBI has been using images and videos that were posted triumphantly all over social media to track down who attended the riots. One man, who said in a viral video: ‘How are they going to arrest every single person?’, was identified and arrested a few days later along with others such as Richard Barnett, who was captured sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and Jake Angeli, who wore the famous fur hat and horns. 


2. Marcus Rashford and child food poverty 

Secondly, we have Marcus Rashford who has become the king of social media during the pandemic. He has used his high-profile platform to share his multiple campaigns for child food poverty. His campaigns have been seen by millions all around the world, fuelling the public anger and consequently forcing the UK government to do a U-Turn on all of their terrible decisions. 


He began by partnering with FareShare who, with Rashford’s coverage on social media, raised money to distribute the equivalent of over 9.5 million meals to children who would otherwise starve. However, he didn’t stop there because, as he said in his letter to the Prime Minister, he ‘recognized it’s just not enough’. Growing up as a child who relied on free school meals, he sees the situation of many families across the UK as ‘all too familiar’, which the privileged government members will never seem to understand. Following on from the letter he wrote, and the response it got from the public, the government made the U-Turn, introducing the voucher scheme to make sure 1.3 million vulnerable children could access food over the summer.


As the pandemic continued into the next school year Marcus continued to campaign. In September he unveiled a Taskforce he had formed including a coalition of charities and major food businesses including Heinz, Ocado, Aldi, Nando’s, Mars and Deliveroo. He then followed this with a parliamentary petition to #EndChildFoodPoverty in October. The petition received over 1 million signatures, which would never have been possible without our digital culture. Rashford also created a website endchildfoodpoverty.org, which allows people to easily find help, give help and discover more about the campaigns he is putting together. 


Sadly, nearly a year later, Rashford is still having to prompt the Prime Minister and tell him how to help the many starving children all over the country, following the images of the miserable food packages families are being sent. Without the ability to share these stories on social media and the position Rashford has, to easily speak to such a mass audience, the government would probably never have changed any of its decisions. 


3. Black Lives Matter  

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Movement dominated our social media like never before. The protests becoming the most searched in US history. However, this isn’t the first time someone from the black population of America has been killed as a result of police brutality. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Daniel Prude and 181 other African Americans were killed by the police in 2020 alone. So why has there not been a response like this everytime? 


The killing of George Floyd came at a time when our digital culture was at its peak. Most of the world was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there was no other way to access the outside world but through our phones. The video wasn’t something we saw once as we flicked past the news channel, but one that kept reappearing on our feeds, forcing us to pay attention to it. Between the 25th of May and the 5th of June, BLM-related videos were watched over 1.4 billion times and on the 28th of May, #blacklivesmatter was used over 8.8 million times. Everything in our lives was changing and it sparked a common thought in the public that ‘this time could be different’. Mass protests occurred across the US, with more than 15 million people marching, as well as in over 150 locations in the UK and in many other countries across the world. Videos of the riots and protests quickly spread and were constantly reminding the world that action needed to be taken, building pressure on the Governments to act.  


Following public pressure, the Democrats introduced the Policing Act 2020, which will combat police misconduct, racial bias, and excessive force, including banning chokeholds. Similarly, they introduced an act named after George Floyd – the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act – which implements national policing standards and accreditations. The Ending Qualified Immunity Act was also introduced, which removes the judicial doctrine of qualified immunity, taking away the protection of law enforcement personal from being held accountable for violating the rights of the public. 


However, not only did it impact the American government in terms of laws, but also the election. The black population in America have often felt like their votes didn’t matter and therefore never registered to vote. But following the BLM campaigns, there was a big push for the community to have their say in the election. The campaigning worked, with millions of black voters turning up across America and especially in the state of Georgia, which was flipped from red to blue, with more than 4.4 million votes being cast. 


Although there have been some significant changes made, there is still much more to be done. For example, the police officers that killed Breonna Taylor have essentially been let off. One of the police officers was charged with ‘wanton endangerment’ for shooting into her neighbours’ apartment, the other two not being charged with anything. There has been no acknowledgment of their responsibility for Breonna’s death. Similarly, just recently we’ve seen evident white supremacy in America, as Trump supporters ran wild in the Capitol with barely any consequences, whilst during the Black Lives Matter protests, peaceful protesters were tear-gassed and treated as if they were the ones storming the Capitol. 


Our digital culture has had some major impacts on governments in the past year and I think it will continue to do so, with problems the public are facing such as university students working online during the pandemic still waiting to be sorted. 


Words By: Savanna Ruffini Sutich  

Edited By: Laura Murphy 


Hey! I am Savanna and I am studying Digital Media at the University of Leeds. I have travelled around a lot and lived in Amsterdam, Australia, New Zealand, London and now Yorkshire. I love travel (as you probably guessed) as well as photography and creating digital art.
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