Social media posts from members of Congress referencing “Black lives matter” increased dramatically in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer during an arrest. There were more total mentions of the phrase “Black lives matter” and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag from members of the 116th Congress on Twitter and Facebook between May 25 and June 14, 2020, than from all members of Congress in the five years prior.

All told, 236 members (45%) of the 116th Congress have mentioned “Black lives matter” on Facebook or Twitter dating back as far as Jan. 1, 2015 – the earliest data point in the Center’s collection of congressional social media accounts. And of those members, roughly half (121 lawmakers) mentioned these terms on social media for the first time in the three weeks following Floyd’s killing.

Attention to the Black Lives Matter movement intensified in the weeks after the death of George Floyd while in police custody. This post examines mentions of the phrase “Black lives matter” and its associated hashtag by members of Congress on social media. To conduct this analysis, Pew Research Center collected every Facebook post and tweet created between Jan. 1, 2015, and June 14, 2020, by every voting member of the 116th U.S. Congress who was actively serving as of June 14, 2020. The analysis includes official, campaign and personal accounts.

Lawmaker posts were classified as mentioning “Black lives matter” if they used that phrase or the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, regardless of capitalization, in the text of a post on Facebook or Twitter (images and other attachments were not included in the analysis). Because the Center’s collection of lawmaker social media posts dates back to early 2015, it does not capture the congressional social media conversation during certain seminal moments related to the broader Black Lives Matter movement, such as the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Black teenager Trayvon Martin. For a more detailed account of the data collection process and analysis, read the full methodology.

Dating to early 2015, majority of congressional Democrats have mentioned ‘Black lives matter’ on social media

This surge in usage among elected officials on social media is yet another indicator of the increased attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, aligning with the historic spike in activity related to the use of the hashtag on Twitter, as well as widespread support for the movement among the public.

Mentions of “Black lives matter” on social media are highly correlated with party affiliation. A majority (76%) of Democrats in the current Congress have used the phrase “Black lives matter” or the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media dating back to 2015, with roughly half of these members mentioning the phrase for the first time during this three-week period. In contrast, very few currently serving Republicans (10%) have explicitly mentioned “Black lives matter” on social media in the last five years – either before or after George Floyd’s killing.

Collectively, Asian, Black and Hispanic legislators accounted for a large share of these posts in the weeks following Floyd’s death. These members account for 21% of congressional seats, but produced roughly twice that share (43%) of lawmaker posts mentioning “Black lives matter” from May 25 through June 14. Black lawmakers accounted for 25% of all posts mentioning this phrase – more than double their share of congressional seats (10%).

Black lawmakers account for 10% of congressional seats but one-quarter of all posts mentioning ‘Black lives matter’ following killing of George Floyd

And as is true of their social media use more broadly over the last five years, Democratic and Republican members used distinctive language – that is, terms used frequently by members of one party but rarely by members of the other – in the weeks following May 25.

For Democratic lawmakers, these distinctive terms focused closely on issues related to racial justice and police violence. Roughly three-quarters of Democratic members – but just 13% of Republicans – used the term “police brutality” over this time period. And more than half of Democratic members mentioned the name “Breonna Taylor” or terms like “racial injustice,” but fewer than one-in-ten Republicans did so. Meanwhile, a larger share of congressional Democrats than Republicans specifically mentioned “George Floyd” on social media (98% vs. 75%). But because this name was used by a majority of members of both parties, it was less distinctive than a number of other words and phrases.

By contrast, Republicans’ most distinctive language largely focused on different issues. Terms like “assistance programs” (often referencing the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak), “happy birthday” (often referring to President Donald Trump’s birthday on June 14) and various expressions related to Memorial Day remembrances were more prevalent among Republican lawmakers on social media during this period.

In weeks following George Floyd killing, Democratic lawmakers’ most distinctive language on social media focused on racial justice, police violence

Note: Here is the methodology for this analysis.

Sono Shah  is a computational social scientist focusing on data science at Pew Research Center.
Regina Widjaya  is a computational social scientist focusing on data science at Pew Research Center.