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Black Lives Matter Media Framing Effects Open Access

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Framing theory explains that the media can select certain aspects of an issue and make them more salient, thus influencing public opinion on that issue. Similarly, social movements have historically been framed in the media. In the case of the Civil Rights Movement coverage showed opponents of the movement as violent and irrational while framing protestors as peaceful, shocking mainstream Americans into support of the movement (Roberts and Klibanoff, 2007). However, a similar social movement, Students for a Democratic Society, was framed as radical and militant preventing mainstream sympathy or support (Gitlin, 2003). That work suggests that how the Black Lives Matter movement is framed may influence support for the movement and its policies. I seek to answer the following research question. Does negative media framing of the Black Lives Matter Movement impact public perceptions about the organization and their cause? To test the effect of framing of the movement on opinion, I undertook an experiment which provided individuals with one of three news stories that framed Black Lives Matter in a positive, negative or neutral fashion. I find that positive media framing of the Black Lives Matter Movement increases support for the organization. These effects do not carry over to increased support for the causes and perspectives Black Lives Matter advocates for - those who view the positive media framing are no more likely to think more needs to be done to achieve racial equality and no more likely to view fatal police encounters with Blacks as signs of a broader problem or see police brutality as an issue than those who received alternative frames. These findings are consistent even among only White respondents. The data indicates no difference in views among those who viewed the negative and neutral framed Black Lives Matter articles and those who did not read about Black Lives Matter. This suggests that the negative frame might be the dominant frame most Americans already have about the Black Lives Matter movement, especially among White only respondents. Still, even if the negative frame is already the dominant frame, my study shows the potential for positive media framing to make an impact on support for Black Lives Matter. These findings have significant implications for the success and strategies of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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