Earth & Conservation

How The Internet Advanced The New Civil Rights Movement

Two activists from different generations give their perspective on what role the Internet has played in shaping the civil rights movement.

The movement to end police violence towards black people has spread rapidly across the U.S. in just a few short years. In 2015, there were protests in over 100 American cities -- something that hasn't happened since 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement.

Seeker Stories' Laura Ling spoke with Sam Sinyangwe of We The Protesters to discuss his work as a social change activist. According to Sinyangwe, we're in the midst of a new civil rights movement in America, and We The Protesters is using social media and modern technology to further the cause.

As a data scientist, Sinyangwe is helping to fight systemic racism by mapping police violence across the country. His data shows that in 2015, police killed 346 black people in the United States.

RELATED: How Black Lives Matter Is Fighting For Criminal Justice Reform

Sinyangwe also helped to launch Campaign Zero, a comprehensive plan to help end police violence in America. The campaign provides detailed policy solutions for combatting things like excessive use of force, for-profit policing, and ensuring that there is community oversight and community representation in all cases where police violence does occur.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was leading the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, activists involved in the movement used the only technology available to them at the time: the telephone. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee would often use a phone line called the Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) that would allow them to make inexpensive long-distance calls for the purpose of reporting incidence of violence. These reports were then transcribed and sent to movement leaders and the media.

Sinyangwe and the civil rights activist groups of today are doing something very similar with modern technology. They're using social media and data science to spread awareness of police violence against the black community and they're doing it at a faster pace than ever before. Social movements are all about communicating and connecting with people, and Sinyangwe has been able to fast-track this process by mapping data of police violence in a more comprehensive way than anything the federal government has been able to do in the past.

While the process of effecting change can often feel like it's moving at a glacial pace, these modern civil rights movements have seen progress happen more quickly than Dr. King himself could've imagined. In addition to the support of hundreds of thousands of people across the country, 24 states have enacted legislation that improves police accountability for instances of violence, and President Obama even banned certain military-style weapons and gear from local police departments in an effort to help citizens feel that police are part of their community rather than an occupying force. All of this action occurred in little more than a year.

Combatting police violence is not an easy task and the end is not yet in sight, but social media and modern technology have given real power to the people and real change is happening right before our eyes.

-- Molly Fosco