NPR logo

How The NBA Has Used Social Media To Move The Ball On Issues

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/532772878/532879796" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How The NBA Has Used Social Media To Move The Ball On Issues

Commentary

How The NBA Has Used Social Media To Move The Ball On Issues

How The NBA Has Used Social Media To Move The Ball On Issues

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/532772878/532879796" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

It was in Egypt's Tahrir Square that I became a critic of the idea that social media somehow powers activism.

I was there researching social media's impact on movements and revolutions.
Across the world, I have seen how it is great at spreading information when it is able to reach people who normally would not be connected to traditional news sources.

But during the Arab Spring I also saw how social media locks that information into bubbles that are constructed in ways that we barely control or see.

In Cairo, the bubble was young, educated, middle class, liberals. The failure to break out of that bubble and transform political institutions ended up leading to the military coup in 2013.

Since then my view has changed a bit, in part, because of basketball. Specifically the NBA.

The NBA has shown that social media can be a great tool in shaping social and political causes. It can do so if those causes are adopted by a strong and engaged organization with a broad reach.

The NBA blows away every other professional sport in the world in terms of social media activity and engagement. It was the first major sport to pass over one billion followers on social media. No other league even comes close.

The NBA, its coaches, its players are among the most active participants on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like.

This allows it to reach people of different demographics, cultures, and places who use different social media platforms.

It also allows the league to engage with fans even when nothing is available to watch live.

The NBA also does something the other leagues generally frown on, it uses social media to support the activist causes of its athletes and coaches.

This lets the brand of what is basically an entertainment organization vouch for political and social causes.

Being attached to the NBA gives those causes greater staying power.

So, we see four-time MVP LeBron James and other league stars using technology to amplify awareness of the Black Lives Matter protests of killings of men like Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner.

Or Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, taking to Twitter to speak out on anti-immigrant policies and gun violence.

Social media can amplify an activist cause, if the organization that uses these tools already transcends the bubbles we all recognize when we go online.
We see that in action with the NBA.

One hundred and forty characters can be used to gain great power and visibility, when you have the right organization behind it.

Is that enough to produce lasting political change?

That's still not clear, but the NBA is a great space to watch to see how it could play out.

Ramesh Srinivasan is an associate professor at UCLA. You can follow him at @rameshmedia.