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Social media plays prominent role in Baltimore unrest

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As in other instances of protests against police brutality and incidents of erupting violence, social media has played a key role in Baltimore.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young appealed for calm via the live-streaming app Periscope.

On Instagram, Baltimore resident Dominic Nell, 38, who is a photographer, went from documenting people’s portraits to documenting riots, and the resulting efforts to clean up and make sense of the chaos.

“With social media, a rumor can spread and go viral, and people get misinformation. So if I’m at the ground level, actually, I’m showing you what I’m seeing,” Nell says.

He says he is also driven by the desire to counteract dominant narratives on TV news.

“They just keep looping the footage,” Nell says. “They’re seeing something that might have happened several hours ago, and the situation has de-escalated. So I’ll show how the situation has de-escalated, I’ll be in the same area, and people will be peaceful.”

The Baltimore Police also took to social media. On Twitter, they urged parents to collect their children — pointing out that many of those perpetrating violence were school-aged. 

“There are just trends, emotional trends, when we have events like this” says Pilar Mckay, a professor of public communication at American University, who has been following the social media conversation surrounding events in Baltimore.

“Anything from getting really upset with your public leaders to then going to the next phases,” McKay says. Among those phases, answer this question, she says: “What does it all mean?”

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