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The Top News Events That Got America Talking About Race

Every day last year, Twitter users turned to social media to talk about race.

They voiced frustrations, offered opinions, spread news and shared reflections on race no fewer than 1.5 million times per day, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. Typically, the number was even higher, with an average of 2.2 million daily Twitter posts on race. On some days, the chatter was much louder.

The Pew analysis, published on Monday, traced the contours of a continuing conversation about race, revealing how social media serves as an outlet as the nation reckons with racial inequality and injustice, particularly around tragedy.

“We can now see big cultural conversations taking place in ways that we couldn’t have seen when we only had them at the water cooler at the office or over the backyard fence or at coffeehouses,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research at Pew. “This is a big new venue for those kinds of very intimate and sometimes painful conversations.”

How we talk about race online

Daily Twitter posts mentioning race from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016.

4.5m

3m

1.5m

2.1m

Jan. ’15

Apr. ’15

Jul. ’15

Oct. ’15

Jan. ’16

Mar. ’16

4.3 million tweets mentioned race on June 18, 2015, the day after nine people were killed at a black church in Charleston, S.C.

4.5m

3m

1.5m

2.1m

Jan. ’15

Apr. ’15

Jul. ’15

Oct. ’15

Jan. ’16

Mar. ’16

Black Americans engage in those online conversations far more than whites, Pew found in a survey of 3,769 adults from all states, conducted in late winter and early spring. Roughly one in four black users reported that most or some of what they share on social media pertains to race, compared with roughly one in 12 white users.

Black users were also nearly twice as likely as white users to report seeing posts about race on social media: Roughly two in three black users reported that some or most of what they see on social media deals with race, compared to roughly one in three white users.

On Twitter in particular, discussion of race often revolved around current events, Pew found in an analysis of tweets over a 15-month study period that began on Jan. 1, 2015.

Ten percent of race-related tweets mentioned the 2016 presidential campaign, with the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, being the subject of many of those posts. An additional 7 percent dealt with the police or the judicial system. Of the tweets over that period, 22 percent lacked a tie to current events and instead discussed discrimination. And 18 percent dealt with neither discrimination nor current events.

What we talk about when we talk about race online

Subject of all race-related tweets from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016. Subjects in bold are related to current events.

2016 campaign

Police or judicial system

Celebrities or entertainment

Other current events

Discrimination (unrelated to current events)

Other (unrelated to current events)

10%

7%

7%

35%

22%

18%

2016 campaign

Police or judicial system

Celebrities or entertainment

Other current events

Discrimination (unrelated to current events)

Other (unrelated to current events)

10%

7%

7%

35%

22%

18%

Here’s a look at a handful of moments that coincided with the loudest discussions of race on Twitter.

The Charleston church shooting

Photo

The Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the site of a mass shooting, was reflected in the glasses of Michael Weeks as he sang outside in June 2015. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, Dylann S. Roof, a white man, walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C., joined those there in prayer and then opened fire. He killed nine people that night.

That brutal act ignited a national discussion on race, including on social media. More than 4.3 million race-related tweets were posted the following day, contributing to the largest single-day discussion of race on the social media network over the period studied.

The conversation remained active on June 19, too, which saw 2.9 million tweets posted to the social media network. That day ranked eighth.

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for Mr. Roof, whose federal trial is scheduled to begin in November.

The death of Freddie Gray

Photo

The death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore resident, in April 2015 ignited days of violent protests in the city, Credit Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Twitter erupted again the day after the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal spinal cord injury in police custody last April.

The funeral was held on Monday, April 27, 2015, a day that ended with the Maryland governor activating the National Guard in response to riots in Baltimore. The following day, Tuesday, April 28, users posted 3.4 million race-related tweets, contributing to the second-largest single-day conversation on the subject over the period studied.

Last month, prosecutors dropped all remaining charges against the police officers accused of having a role in Mr. Gray’s death.

The death of Sandra Bland

Photo

Keona Robertson and her son, Jeremiah, 3, join hands with family members to pray at a memorial for Sandra Bland in July 2015. Credit Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The third-, fourth- and fifth-largest discussions of race on Twitter all occurred as the nation reacted to the death of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who was found dead, hanging in her Texas jail cell, three days after being arrested last summer.

On July 22, 2015, one day after the authorities released dashboard camera footage of Ms. Bland’s arrest, users posted 3.3 million tweets discussing race. The next day, they posted three million more. A week later, on July 29th, the conversation was just as loud, with Pew attributing the three-million-tweet-strong discussion that day to protests held in response to Ms. Bland’s death.

Late last year, a grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection to her death.

The awards shows

Photo

Kendrick Lamar performing during the 58th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Credit Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for NARAS

While the largest race-related conversations on Twitter were held in the aftermath of tragedies, some appear to have been provoked by entertainers using awards show stages as a platform.

Twitter users share 2.9 million posts on June 29th, 2015, one day after the BET Awards, which included a speech by the actor Michael B. Jordan on the Charleston shooting.

This year, on Feb. 16, just one day after the rapper Kendrick Lamar won five awards and performed a medley of songs at the Grammy Awards, Twitter users posted more than 2.9 million race-related messages to the social media network. Mr. Lamar, whose songs about black identity had become touchstones of the Black Lives Matter movement, appeared on stage in chains and a blue prison uniform, surrounded by other black men, a clear statement on over-incarceration.

Later that month, users posted a similar number of race-related tweets following the Academy Awards, which for two years had weathered strong criticism for lacking any black nominees for acting awards.

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