The creator of @justiceforgeorge wasn’t prepared for it to get this big.
While scrolling through Twitter last Friday, Anne (who works anonymously and whom we are identifying with a pseudonym) stumbled across a thread by @chaoticcoochie. The thread included locations and times for Black Lives Matter demonstrations in New York and Connecticut protesting the police killing of 46 year-old Minnesota man George Floyd. Thinking it might be difficult for some people to find, Anne decided to share the information by creating an Instagram account, @justiceforgeorgenyc, and posting it there. “I didn’t think it was anything special,” Anne said. “I kind of just assumed that there were other accounts like this.”
Anne was wrong.
Later that evening Anne received messages from users asking for information about protests in Brooklyn. Scrambling for the latest, Anne took to Twitter and Instagram and searched hashtags and locations. After finding it, she made a post about a Barclays Center crowd en route to Fort Greene Park with the hashtags #justiceforgeorge and #nycprotest. She got 128 likes.
By the end of Saturday, Anne had around 600 followers. On Sunday, she hit over 5,000 followers. Her DMs were flooded with messages from protesters and organizers so she stayed in that night, and by Monday, June 1—the day I discovered the account—her follower count had shot up to over 20,000. She realized this was big. As of Friday morning, her follower count had reached 120,000.
Anne had founded a major platform.
Since she started the account on May 29, Anne has squeezed in only eight hours of work for her regular full-time job at a law firm in the city. The rest of her time has been devoted to the account. That’s the most important thing right now, she says. She goes to bed around midnight and she’s up at around 7:30 a.m. (On Tuesday she went to bed at 1 a.m. as she spent the night tracking the group of protesters trapped on the Manhattan Bridge by police and was late to post notices for Wednesday’s protests.) She spends the morning checking messages (her new message notifications have capped out at 99+), consolidating protest notices, and fielding requests from organizers and protesters.
Throughout the day, Anne tracks the movement of each group—there are anywhere from eight to 12 protests or vigils each day and often several at once. She gets her updates exclusively from DMs. “I think the amazing thing about the page, as overwhelming as it is, is there are so many people trying to help,” Anne said.
But it has quickly become her second full-time job — one that, as of Thursday, inspired Anne to bring on a handful of volunteers to help manage the account as a team. Anne and her team have also denied offers from personal accounts, about 50, willing to compensate them for the work they’ve put in.
While Anne maintains that she is not an organizer, and she doesn’t pretend to be, she isn’t a stranger to activism. After graduating law school in 2016, she worked for a nonprofit activist organization helping host and promote events on the group’s social media pages. Anne used that experience to get @justiceforgeorgenyc off the ground.
On Friday, she started by monitoring hashtags and locations on Twitter as well as accounts like Justice League NYC (@nyjusticeleague) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (@nyclu). Until Sunday, May 31, she also shared any notices sent to her via DMs. But then she received a DM from an Instagram account with a flyer for a Bay Ridge protest supposedly hosted by the local nonprofit group Bay Ridge Cares, according to the comments on Instagram.
Almost immediately after Anne shared it, she received messages from the organization saying that this was not their protest and they thought this was likely a fake. (Misinformation on social media has been an increasing concern, and BuzzFeed is keeping a running list of hoaxes and fake news.) Bay Ridge Cares posted an official statement detailing that the information was false just before 3 p.m. on Sunday and Anne quickly took down the post upon their request. The account manager, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that they received the false information from a friend and have since reached out to explain the situation to Bay Ridge Cares, which denies that they were contacted.
Sunday was Anne’s point of no return.
“Going into this I didn’t realize … that it would involve the level of responsibility and trust that people have put into my judgment, and that part is overwhelming for sure,” Anne said.
To meet that responsibility, she now vets her information. When she gets it from DMs, she makes sure to check the tipster’s number of followers and posts. “Troll” accounts, Anne says, often have zero followers or posts, and if they do have posts, they aren’t aligned with the movement. She then asks who the organizer is and includes that information, unless the organizer insists on remaining anonymous. From there, she uses her best judgment, and she’s careful to disclose when something is only a rumor.
“It’s objective, but it’s also so subjective at the same time,” she said.
Anne, 28, is white, a fact she was extremely wary about revealing to me. She was also wary about revealing her real name, in part because she didn’t want to co-opt the movement and the country-wide protests. The @justiceforgeorgenyc account, she says, is not about her. “It’s important that the only name attached to these protests are those that we’re protesting for,” she said.
Nupol Kiazolu, the president of the Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, was less than enthusiastic to hear that the founder of @justiceforgeorgenyc is white. When we spoke on Wednesday, none of Anne’s other managers were black, though they were people of color. “I don’t wish them any ill. But I would like to say to them, if there’s no black people on the team, then you should include black people,” the 19-year-old Brooklyn native, who was sworn in in 2018, said in a phone interview on Wednesday, clarifying that this is a black movement.
Anne has since added a black volunteer.
Anne’s job got harder when New York instituted its first curfew in 75 years — starting at 11 p.m. Monday, June 1, and extended to 8 p.m. for the rest of the week. Now, Anne is not only constantly tracking the movement of protests, communicating with organizers, and promoting events. She’s also reminding people of curfew, staying abreast of CitiBike and Revel suspensions along with changes to Uber and Lyft, and tracking police movement and mass arrests. (Over 900 people were arrested on Monday and Tuesday alone.) She’s also informing protesters of their rights and possible repercussions for getting caught outside past curfew.
On Tuesday, the large group of protesters that took over the Manhattan Bridge and was blocked from entry into Manhattan by the NYPD for over an hour required extra vigilance on Anne’s, and the protesters’, part. She posted updates throughout.
The curfew has changed the tenor, and the landscape, of the ongoing protests. But Anne is committed to keeping the account going as long as the protests do. “There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of concerns, tensions have definitely heightened,” she said. “But the stamina and the will power is still there, and people are making it work so I’m trying to make it work on my page as well.” She’s encouraging others, especially those with backgrounds in organizing and social media, to do the same. This week, similar accounts for Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island popped up, although none have the same following @justiceforgeorgenyc has.
Anne says she’s still getting messages for events into the weekend and the following week. The momentum isn’t dwindling. If anything, it’s growing. Kiazolu shares that sentiment. During Kiazolu and BLM’s organized march from Bryant Park to Trump Tower over 15,000 people came out. “You couldn’t see anything but people,” Kiazolu said. Anne was one of those people. Due to the near-constant nature of the account (she often updates every couple of minutes) Anne has largely stayed inside. But on Tuesday she joined, keeping a close eye on the account—updating and messaging—all the while.