Lawmakers are increasingly mentioning Black History Month on social media, especially Democrats

A growing share of congressional lawmakers have taken to social media each February to commemorate Black History Month, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of their Facebook and Twitter activity. Nearly two in three members of Congress (64%) mentioned Black History Month on Facebook or Twitter in February 2021, up from just 29% in 2015.

Previous research from the Center found that Democratic lawmakers are more likely than Republicans to mention the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media. The new analysis finds that Democrats are also more likely than their GOP counterparts to discuss Black History Month on social media.

Every year since 2016, a majority of Democrats in Congress have made Facebook or Twitter posts acknowledging Black History Month. That share increased by 9 percentage points between 2020 and 2021, with 91% of Democratic lawmakers doing so last February. By contrast, less than half of Republicans in Congress have mentioned Black History Month every year since 2015. But that share has also increased significantly over that time, including a 29% to 36% increase between 2020 and 2021.

This article examines how members of Congress are using social media to discuss Black History Month, which is commemorated each February. To conduct this analysis, the Pew Research Center collected every Facebook post and tweet created by every voting member of Congress each February from 2015 through 2021. The analysis includes members’ official, campaign, and personal accounts.

Articles by lawmakers were categorized as mentioning Black History Month if the text of the article included the phrases “Black History” or “Black History Month”, or used the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth. For posts mentioning Black History Month in 2020 and 2021, the Center used a text analysis technique known as Named Entity Recognition (NER) to identify the lawmakers mentioned in those posts. Here is the detailed methodology of this analysis.

Black members of Congress have produced a significant portion of these messages in recent years. While black lawmakers have made up 9% of members of Congress over the past two years, together they made up 35% of members’ posts mentioning Black History Month in February 2020 and 2021. Black Members of Congress are mostly Democrats.

When it comes to the specific language used in articles by lawmakers about Black History Month, “celebrate” and “honor” are two of the most commonly used substantive terms. Each word appeared in 19% of these posts since 2015. Other common terms include “civil rights” (used in 12% of posts), “justice” (10%) and “equality” (8%).

A bar chart showing that civil rights figures are among the most mentioned people in articles by lawmakers about Black History Month

In addition to reviewing the terms used in legislators’ Black History Month messages, the Pew Research Center has identified the people, historical and contemporary, who have been referenced by the most lawmakers in those messages. . In February 2020 and February 2021, civil rights icon Rosa Parks was the most mentioned person in articles by lawmakers about Black History Month: 40 lawmakers mentioned Parks in this context in 2020 and 41 the have done in 2021. People in the top 10 in both years also included civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress.

Other historical figures have been mentioned in these posts in response to recent events. For example, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson – who died on February 24, 2020 – was the third most mentioned figure in February 2020. And in 2021, the most mentioned figures included Kamala Harris, who had recently been elected vice president, and John Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman who died in July 2020.

Members of Congress also differ from party to party when it comes to Who the people they mentioned in their social media posts in honor of Black History Month. Many of these contemporary or historical personalities, for example, were cited more by Democratic members than by Republican members. This includes references to people killed by police whose deaths helped spark the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, such as George Floyd (referenced by six Democrats and no Republicans in articles on Human History Month). Blacks in February 2021) and Breonna Taylor (mentioned by three Democrats and no Republicans that month).

Republicans, in turn, have often referred to black Reconstruction-era politicians who served in Congress as Republicans, such as Hiram Revels (mentioned in 2020) and Joseph Rainey (in 2021). GOP lawmakers have also referenced contemporary conservative political or legal figures who are black. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, was mentioned by six Republican members of Congress in articles about Black History Month in February 2020 and February 2021 combined, but by no Democrats.

This analysis focuses on people who are mentioned in publications specific to Black History Month. But many of these people are also discussed in more general contexts. In February 2020 and February 2021, for example, black Americans mentioned by the bulk of congressional lawmakers — regardless of context — included prominent contemporary political figures such as Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, as well as people appearing prominently in discussions at the time. , such as Katherine Johnson, Emmett Till (memorized in the Emmett Till Antilynching Act which passed the House of Representatives in February 2020) or Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee (honored in the 2020 State of the Union Address).

Note: Here is the detailed methodology of this analysis.

Samuel Bestvater is a computational social scientist focusing on data science at the Pew Research Center.