“Them Cuffs Keep Them Quiet”: Facebook Users’ Reactions to Live Arrests During Racial Justice Protests

Martina Santia, P. Brooks Fuller, Nathan P. Kalmoe, Paromita Saha


This study examines public, digitally focused reactions to civilian arrests in the aftermath of the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 2016. We employ a qualitative content analysis to investigate 302 comments from six Facebook Live videos streamed by local news organizations during racial justice protests following Sterling’s death. We first categorize users’ comments according to two broad and divergent themes around appeals for authoritarian order and for social justice. From these themes, analyses revealed subthemes that illustrate the bases for commenters’ ideological alignments in the immediate aftermath of Sterling’s shooting and the protests that followed. Our findings suggest that online comments reflect existing social inequalities and offline divisions that are still felt in Baton Rouge, a functionally segregated city in the Southern United States. This research contributes to our understanding of online distant witnessing as opposing groups react to live-streamed videos of arrests by police on one of the nation’s most divisive issues.


civil unrest, intergroup conflict, policing, Facebook Live, qualitative content analysis

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