“He Has A Name”: Sense-Making and the Use of Twitter to Disrupt the Dominant Narrative in the Wake of Michael Brown’s Death
Sense-making (also known as meaning-making) is a process in which human beings participate to make sense of the world around them. This process is often seen after a tragic or cataclysmic event, and social media can document the process as it evolves over a period of time. Politically polarizing events in particular can involve an even more nuanced process of meaning-making. Dominant narratives come from authority figures, like journalists and politicians, immediately after newsworthy events. The challenging of these dominant narratives by those with less formal authority is a component of sense-making with which I am most interested. The purpose of this study is to record and analyze recurring language and themes in posts on Twitter (tweets) following the killing of Michael Brown as well as how those themes and language change over time. I sought evidence of Twitter being used as a place for meaning-making and challenging dominant narratives. Previous research has examined how Twitter has been used to sense-make following generally accepted traumatic events, but there is less research focusing on the sense-making process behind events that are highly polarizing, such as police brutality. Because of this, I found the Tweet classification categories proposed by preceding papers to be insufficient and propose the introduction of another category “narrative challenging” to be included in analysis of tweets, particularly following polarizing events.