On the morning of November 28th, a 24 year old woman was on her way to work, commuting by bike westbound in a buffered bike lane on Spruce St in Philadelphia. Beside her in the trafic lane was a trash truck. As they approached the intersection of 11th street, the truck turned right, hitting the cyclist in what is called a “right hook,” ultimately killing her.
Spreading news through Social Media
Within the hour, word had spread to local news stations, the Philadelphia bicycle community and the larger Philadelphia urban planning community. All that was known about the victim was that it was a female and her approximate age. This prompted members of the WomenBikePHL Facebook group – a sub-group of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia – to ask after each others welfare. Many of the group’s members use this as a commuting route and throughout the morning, members checked in, saying that they were safe. As I’m a cyclist and bike commuter, I similarly had friends and family tag me, asking if I was okay.
As the day wore on and more information was released, the initial shock turned to sorrow…and outrage across Facebook and Twitter. This very corridor was recently the center of controversy within the cycling and urban planning communities. Plans to change this unprotected bike lane – basically just paint on the ground – into one using flexible bollards that physically separate cyclists from traffic were blocked by residents in the community.
Social Media as a tool for activism and mobilization
As word spread throughout social media, the need to DO something spread as well.
Activists organized a “Human Bike Lane Action” for the following morning in which people stand and create a human wall where protective bollards should be on the bike lane. With less than 24 hours of planning, around 100 people showed up and stood shoulder-to-shoulder across several city blocks, creating a protective barrier between traffic and cyclists using the bike lane.
The Bicycle Coalitions organized a vigil in memory of this victim – and other victims – traffic violence. Several hundred people showed up in honor of this woman whose life was cut short – and to bring awareness and prevent this from happening to anyone else.
Could this type of rapid activation have happened without the use of social media?
Much as could be seen in the Arab Spring uprisings, in Black Lives Matter protests and in countless other social and activist circles, social media offers an outlet to quickly and efficiently allow for planning and action. Word spreads among groups of interest, resulting in action. Social media allows for a voice.
What these situations reflect is that at it’s root, social media is an avenue for communication, collaboration and community. It’s at the heart of why exactly an influencer is an influencer: Community