Beyond #BlackTwitter: A Social Media Community Uncovered
“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power.” — Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook.
Since its conception in 2004, Facebook has become the premier social media platform to give people a voice and to give them power to change the world around them. Facebook’s predecessors, MySpace (2003) and LinkedIn (2002) allowed for connection, but lacked the ability to give users a voice and the power that comes with it.
Platforms that have come after Facebook, such as YouTube (2005), Pinterest (2010), Instagram (2010) and Twitter (2006) have all followed in its footsteps by giving a voice and power to all who agree to its services. One of the most powerful networks to adopt this method is Twitter.
About one-quarter of online adults, 24% use Twitter, according to a 2016 study done by Pew Research Center, which has changed slightly from a survey conducted in 2015 (23%).
BLACK PEOPLE AND TWITTER
In 2009, African-Americans made up the largest racial group of users of the social media network of Twitter. According to Pew Research Center, 26% of African-American adults, majority between the ages of 18–29, actively used Twitter as a means of communication. When compared to other races, Caucasians and Hispanics trailed by 19 and 18-percent, respectively, and Asians not accounted for in the study.
Again, in May 2011, Pew Research conducted an updated study which concluded that Twitter adoption became particularly high among non-whites. The percentage of African-American Twitter users slightly dropped to 25%, again with Whites and Hispanics trailing, but only by 9 and 19-percent, respectively. By this time, African-Americans and Latino Twitter users were using the platform more frequently and at a higher rate than their White counterparts.
Between November 2010 and May 2011, there was an eight percent change in Twitter use between African-American users, 13%, and White users, 5%. At this point, one in ten African-American internet users visited Twitter daily (11%) — which was double the rate for Latinos (5%) and nearly four times the rate for whites (3%).
People of color, especially African-Americans were and are using Twitter at a higher and faster rate than any other race.
“I think Twitter, culturally, mimics speech patterns in the African-American community, and that’s why it lends itself to be a tool that is used by the community so well,” said Lanae Spruce, the Manager of Social Media & Digital Engagement for the National Museum of African-American History & Culture. She believes that this high engagement rate on Twitter is due to the short colloquial call and response that is native to African-Americans and African communities.
“It’s the same type of language pattern that have been spoken for centuries,” she said.
You can see this in the abbreviations and shortened responses of geographical slang terms used by black people, and you can see it in church when the pastor or minister says a “good word,” and before he is even done, a “Praise” or “Amen” is given in response.
The use of 140 characters with the option of adding links, GIFs, photos videos and emojis is the short colloquial call she is referring to, while the function of retweeting, quoting a tweet or simply mentioning another user is the response aspect.
In short, Twitter was made for Black people.
As of 2015, African-Americans led Latinos and whites in the usage of Twitter, 27%, 25%, and 21%, respectively, according to Pew Research Center, only increasing the popularity of what is known today as #BlackTwitter.
“We didn’t create a new space, but we’re using this opportunity to talk to each other and talk about the things we want to talk about because we have the ability to talk to each other, regardless of having to be in the same space. Black Twitter means something.” — Charisse L’Pree, assistant professor of Communications and Media Studies, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University
There is no such thing as blacktwitter.com. It is not a website or a gang; it’s a sub-community of Twitter that has started and gained popularity over the past 10 years.
Around 2007, young African-Americans and Latinos began to break down the barriers of the digital divide — the technology gap between those of higher and lower income statuses, according to theyoungandthedigital.com. The convergence of mobile devices and social media began to change how these racial groups used social media with the adoption of mobile, smart phones and a newfound interest in Twitter.
The early adopters of black people on Twitter were millennials. Early (c. 2008) Black Twitter skewed heavily toward and their engagement was fueled by popular culture. In the same year, hip-hop artists, such as Common and Questlove joined Twitter, further driving popularity to the platform.
“It [Black Twitter] was a source of Black people being able to make jokes about things that they saw on pop culture,” said Christine Michel Carter, a global marketing strategist, who has worked with brands such as BET and McCormick. “I think that we have transcended that, and that we are the innovators of being social on Twitter.”
Although 36% of adult, ages 18–29 are on Twitter, the platform is more popular among those who are highly educated (29% of Internet users with college degrees use Twitter). But African-Americans, as a whole, transcends these numbers, in terms of the use of Twitter. Forty-percent of African-Americans between the ages of 18–29 use Twitter the most of any group, according to Pew Research Center.
With the rapid growth of young, African-Americans on Twitter, it gave birth to a community where Black people can come together and discuss the topics that are most important to them, enjoy those who are like them, and have their voices be heard on a larger scale.
Carter believes that Black people are inherently innovators, and have long played an important role in influencing pop culture in the U.S. According to Nielson, 73-percent of non-Hispanic whites, and 67-percent of Hispanics that believe that Black people influence mainstream culture.
“We’re innovators and pioneers,” said Carter. “I think that we’re always first-see for content via digital or traditional that reflects us.”
Around 2009, topics relating to the Black community began circulating on Twitter due to popularity in popular culture, such as ‘yo mama’ jokes, memes, and content of shows relating to Black people, such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Scandal. This also began to prove the effect of Black television on Twitter and the Internet.
Although popular culture was where Black Twitter started, it has gained momentum throughout the years to take on more serious topics and issues, as well.
SOCIAL ACTIVISM, AND THE LAUNCH OF A NEW ERA
“Black millennials are using Twitter and other social channels differently. They’re forging ahead in digital and social media to raise awareness and evoke a national discussion on civic and political issues.” — Christine Michel Carter
According to The Root, popular or trending topics often originate with and are perpetuated by Black people. Also, according to Edison Research, “many of the ‘trending topics’ on Twitter on a typical day are reflective of African-American culture, memes and topics,” which is what makes Black Twitter such a driving force. Hashtags such as #BlackGirlMagic, #LemonadeSyllabus, #Respeck, #NotAnArmrest, #BeforeYouWatch, #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies, #SayHerName, #DrakeAlwaysOnBeat, #OscarsSoWhite, #StayMadAbby, and the infamous, #BlackLivesMatter have been some of the top conversation starters over the past seven years.
One of the reasons why Twitter is such a cultural phenomenon is because of Black people, believes Deen Freelon, assistant professor of communications at American University.
In 2013, when the first mention of #BlackLivesMatter appeared, it changed Black Twitter from a community dominated by pop culture references to a force that would drive social change. From mid-2013 to March 2016, this hashtag was used on Twitter about 11.8 million times, according to Pew Research Center.
The phrase was first used by Alicia Garza, one of the co-creators of the Black Lives Matter movement, in a Facebook post after the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. In the second half of 2013, #BlackLivesMatter appeared about 30 times per day on Twitter.
Since then, #BlackLivesMatter has become one of the most frequently used hashtag by Black Twitter, especially following the deaths, police brutality and racial injustices following Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and so many more.
Black Twitter became a place for not only entertainment, but a community of necessity.
“It was formulated because of a foundational and institutional problem with this country — racism,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media professional and assistant professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. “The Black community has been doing this out of necessity for forever. From the marches in Selma to the Civil Rights movement and the March on Washington. They have been coming together in large massive movements.”
Out of this hashtag, a movement grew. A movement that became the driving force for social activism, the widespread of ideas and important issues, and media influence in the Black community and beyond the community, as well.
“Black folks in this country were ready for Twitter because they could use it to come together, organize and raise their voices,” said Grygiel.
Although the hashtag was intended for solidarity, awareness and to bring attention to issues of great importance, there have been times where it has been used to criticize the movement by certain users. But, the majority of content shared with #BlackLivesMatter have been positive and supportive of the greater movement.
Another hashtag that stemmed from the popularity and effectiveness of #BlackLivesMatter was #AllLivesMatter. This hashtag indicated a minimization of the concerns of minorities, especially in regards to issues of police brutality and discrimination, according to Pew Research Center.
Meredith Clark, assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia stated that the event of the Charleston shooting was another example of how Black Twitter used a hashtag to influence what was happening in the community. The initial hashtag the night of the shooting was #CharlestonShooting, but within a few days a new hashtag, #CharlestonMassacre, was picked up by the mainstream
“That Charleston Massacre hashtag originated within Black Twitter because people were angry because this wasn’t just a shooting that happened or a random act of violence; it was a targeted act of violence,” she said. “They wanted media to cover it that way.”
Two other hashtags that became popular because of Black Twitter were #OscarsSoWhite and #SayHerName. Both hashtags not only circulated in Black Twitter, but also intersected with other Twitter sub-groups, such as #LatinoTwitter and #FeministTwitter.
April Reign, the managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com started #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 when Hollywood failed to recognize and nominate actors and filmmakers of color for their roles and productions. The hashtag shined light on how one-dimensional Hollywood is about giving credit where credit is due. Because of the hashtag, there has been more of a stride to make the Oscars and other award show less white, at various levels of film production. Most recently, films such as Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight, and Fences have begun to get the recognition they deserve, and hopefully will continue.
#SayHerName was created to raise awareness about the number of women and girls that are killed by law enforcement officers. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia Law School and activist not only started the hashtag, but coined the term “intersectionality” in the 1980s. This hashtag is an example of just that, intersectionality. It intersects Black Twitter and Feminist Twitter due to the issue behind the hashtag, women of color, police brutality and their identities.
These hashtags not only made an impact online, but in the traditional news media as well. Black Twitter has influenced the mainstream media in a way that social media has never before.
The way the media covered the Pulse nightclub shooting is an example of this, according to Clark. You can see the contributions that people made online and how it then transferred to the mainstream media.
“You heard from Black communities, Latino communities, LGBTQ communities, and all those that intersect about the way that the shooting was covered,” she said. “These weren’t just people who were shot in a nightclub. It’s significant that they were Black, Brown and LGBTQ+.”
The significance of these groups are not only seen in social media activism, but they’re seen as marginalized groups in American history.
“I think that as long as we have communication that marginalized groups will find a way to use that to their benefit,” said L’Pree.
That is Black Twitter. It is the communication of marginalized groups for their benefit. It’s a force and a voice that speaks levels because of the people who are a part of the group. Black people, from the time of slavery, have never been silent. The voices have only gotten louder, which has influenced other groups to do the same.
The history of how Black resistance is seen and simultaneously informed by other groups, and informs other groups, stresses L’Pree. “It informs other groups because when we see something work, we run with it. But we often ignore that Black folks are often inspired by other groups that are fighting as well.”
The intersection of hashtags proves that. Alone or with another group, Black Twitter is garnering the attention of the mainstream media, although the representation is not always accurate.
“I think where you see mainstream media outlets revisiting the way they report on Black communities, or issuing statements of apologies to the Black community,” said Clark. “That has to do with some of the blowback and feedback that they have gotten from Black Twitter.”
MEDIA AND #BLACKTWITTER
Sometimes mainstream media gets it wrong, and Black Twitter is the powerhouse behind making sure information, especially about the Black community is disseminated correctly.
Jamilah King, race and justice reporter for Mother Jones believes that social media is a corrective that allows people to speak their truths against power. It’s an important corrective where people of color can assert their voices and stories, and check mainstream white media when they’re getting it wrong, she said.
Social media and Black Twitter give a voice unlike anything that has been heard before, especially from marginalized groups. It gives the opportunity for Black people to make sure their history and stories are factual and represented in the proper way. Black Twitter gives the power to rewrite the narrative of mainstream white media.
For example, after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the New York Times ran a story with a headline stating that he was, “no angel.” Shortly after social media and Twitter users took to the platform to voice their opinions on how that headline evoked such a negative connotation, and led to the New York Times being dragged (brutally corrected due to the incorrect telling of information or misrepresentation of a group) by Black Twitter.
“I think that accountability that Black Twitter has over publications is so important,” said Taryn Finley, associate editor at Huffington Post Black Voices. “Twitter is an amazing tool for journalists. It makes sure we’re on our toes, and ensures that we’re talking what we’re supposed to be talking about, and covering the real issues.”
The accountability factor that Black Twitter holds is important for Black and non-Black journalists alike. It makes sure that Black journalists are covering what’s important in their community through a lens that accurately represents it, and assists in making sure that non-Black journalists fact-check and accurately portray a community that is not theirs.
“If someone does something wrong, Black Twitter is going to keep dragging them until they get it right,” said Ashley Jolicoeur, social media producer at The Daily Beast. “Sometimes people of other races just don’t get it, and need that tough love. Black Twitter shows love, but Black Twitter will also put you in your place.”
As a journalist, King uses social media to see what people are talking about and write stories that reflect that.
Fellow journalist, Yamiche Alcindor, who is a national reporter for The New York Times, covering politics and social justice issues also takes that approach.
In her 2016 piece, “‘Black Twitter’ Criticizes Melania Trump on Convention Speech,” Alcindor used Black Twitter as inspiration and motivation. Around that time Melania Trump was a trending topic on Twitter, due in part to her plagiarizing parts of an old Michelle Obama speech and using it as her own. Alcindor said she used Black Twitter to know that the story was happening, find sources, write it, and use it for context about what was being said about Melania Trump.
“I tried to put it in context saying, this is the medium that Black people have used before Melania Trump to call out people for different things,” she said.
Black Twitter can not only amplify stories, but also showcase stories before they become national news.
“Twitter and Facebook are public seers, and it’s nice to gauge how the public is feeling,” King said. “Especially for the Black community, social media is a space where a lot of stories gather audiences. Before they become stories, they’re being discussed and dissected on social media.”
Caroline Haythornthwaite, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University believes that what keeps a community going is the connection of those who’s interested in certain posts, and who’s responding to whom.
The responses of mentions, likes, retweets and quote tweets help to bring to the forefront of what is discussed and dissected on Black Twitter. The aspect of what makes something trending often makes for a noteworthy story, and is often pushed to the attention of Twitter users by Black Twitter. For example, #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter.
“Whatever’s the trending topic on the news one day, you could hear about it and then never hear about it again for the rest of your life,” said Courtney Thorton, former radio producer for 900AM WURD’s the Black Twitter Report. “Social media keeps important stories alive.”
The popularity of Black Twitter often keeps trending topics in rotation for as long as the issue or topic is prevalent, which is more than your average trending topic. The more views and shares a piece of content has determines its virality, and on Twitter is often driven by the accompanying hashtag. Hashtags track and monitor how often a certain topic is being viewed on Twitter and how much reach it’s getting.
“A fair amount of news gets broken on Twitter,” said Jeff Hemsley, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. “That’s where the news media finds out about it, gets more information and covers it. News breaks first or news get reported.”
Although stories can be discovered via platforms like Twitter, reporters must be careful to not take what they see as fact, especially if it’s not from a credible news source. People parrot each other with no trace to the original source, said Michael Fletcher, senior writer for The Undefeated.
Twitter should be used as a tip sheet to draw reporters’ attention to stories that deserve attention, he said. There are certain types of stories that will resonate more on social media than others, and others that get amplified on Black Twitter that may not have if it weren’t for the community. A journalist should want people to understand the complexity of the topic at hand, and social media can help present the facts with additional outside information, Fletcher explained.
As with anything else, Black Twitter has its pitfalls when it comes to assisting in the reporting process.
You can get information quickly, sample, and get a wide range of views quickly, but you should proceed with caution, according to Fletcher. No matter the number of posts, that shouldn’t be taken as the breath of the community.
If Black Twitter was taken as the face of the Black community at-large, reporters would have to constantly ask themselves questions regarding all the sub-groups of Black Twitter to present the accurate facts: What do the church folk think? What do the Black conservatives think?
“Twitter is sort of a mainstream,” said Fletcher. “You have to consider that it’s a self-selected group of people that you’re looking at, and look more broadly. It doesn’t make it more legit, but there are more points of view out there. You want to understand the true nature of what you have.”
The true nature is that the Black narrative comes in all different shapes, sizes and forms; it’s not a one size fits all situation. In order to understand the true nature of what you have, you have to understand the sub-groups and intersections of Black Twitter.
There are Shea Butter Twitter, Black Girl Nerd Twitter, Black Journalists Twitter, and much more, expressed Finley.
By researching these sub-groups, along with other sources of information, a more focused, tailored and accurate story can be told; a narrative that is more pleasing to the community.
“There’s certain things that Black people do, and white people know nothing about,” said Thorton, about her former radio show, The Black Twitter Report. “They didn’t know that we put a lot of sugar in our Kool-Aid. They didn’t know that we do things really late, CP time.”
Things that could seem as minute details, are what makes up the Black experience and can become important details when telling the stories of Black people. The knowledge of things like socio-economic status, fried chicken and Love and Basketball might be the difference between getting dragged on Twitter and acknowledging that newsrooms need to be diverse to deliver stories that are proper reflections of the people it’s telling.
“If this is a Black story and you’re telling it from a Black lens, you’re a better candidate, 10 times out of 10 to tell a story then a white person,” said Finley. “You’re going to tell it more accurately.”
Black Twitter holds publications accountable for the content it produces that reflects the Black community, but it also brings up an underlying issue in journalism: the lack of diverse newsrooms.
Newsroom diversity is important. Newsrooms should reflect what the world looks like, and everyone’s story deserves to be told, accurately and from the right lens. In addition, an exchange of ideas and collaboration should be reflected in that diversity as well, even if the reporter is telling the story of a group they are not directly a part of.
“I think everybody should use it [Black Twitter],” said Fletcher. “It’s good to be in touch with what different communities are thinking. You want to listen, so you know what the people in these communities are talking about. Black Twitter can serve the same role for reporters of other races.”
WHY IS #BLACKTWITTER A THING?
“Black Twitter is as ambiguous as saying, ‘I live in a Black neighborhood.’ There’s nothing about it that makes it inherently Black, but you know it’s a Black neighborhood.” — Keaton Nichols, Producer and Host at 900AM WURD
Black Twitter incorporates all the best qualities of social media, explained King. It’s quick, entertaining, and informative. It doesn’t normalize what’s happening, instead it is vocal about why it exists and who it services.
Although, some people don’t get it, and wonder why Black Twitter is a thing, explained freelance journalist, Joyce Philippe, Black Twitter is not a new concept in the Black community. It is just an evolution of the spaces that have come before it.
The barber shop.
These are all past versions of Black Twitter.
L’Pree recalls when she worked at Burrell Communications as an academic resident in 2015, and the Chief Creative Officer said, ‘There was Black Twitter before there was Twitter. It was called the grapevine; it was called the salon or barber shop.’
You go and you learn about everything else that is going on in your community there, said L’Pree. “People sit down and talk for hours. They come and they go, and people say what they know, and someone “retweets” it; they repeat the gossip that they know.”
Black Twitter is an online version of the places where the Black community congregates and tells stories, talks about each other, said Gregory Nesmith, radio host at WHCR.
It’s the evolution of the space in which Black people come together to be themselves, to unwind, to talk about current events and what’s important, to kiki (gossip), and to share in the experience of being Black.
“We have common interests and common problems that affect us as a community, or jokes, memes, entertainment or sports that are specific to our community,” said Nichols. “It’s not something that we intentionally try to do, but Black culture is a separate and intentional thing in America. Being Black in America is something different than being White in America.”
Black Twitter is not a mechanism for separation from other groups, but a community that is the embodiment of the ‘I see you’ nod in the virtual realm. It’s comradery, support and a mutual understanding bonded together by a common thread: being Black in America — no matter the socio-economic status, education level, skin tone, accent or hair type.
“I feel like a lot of Black people’s experiences are unified,” said Thorton. “It’s beautiful. I think it [Black Twitter] came to be by everyone sharing different experiences and discussing them.
The experiences that Black people share and find common ground on live in the world that is Black Twitter. It takes away geographic dissonance and strips away societal factors to one commonality.
“It exists because if you took off that 25% of Black users on Twitter, then April Reign wouldn’t have been able to create #OscarsSoWhite,” said Nesmith. “Black Lives Matter as a cause probably wouldn’t have started. I don’t know if a white person would’ve created #GrowingUpBlack as a discussion topic. These things don’t exist without there being a Black Twitter.”
These topics allow African-Americans to be the gatekeepers of their own content, especially within the community. They determine what’s important, what gets seen, what deserves attention to further amplify and unite the community.
Grygiel believes that Black Twitter has been uprooting key figures within the community who become figure heads and leaders for what gets visibility, such as within the Black Lives Matter community. The community is electing people to mediate what makes it to the press, she said.
When those key influencers, like DeRay Mckesson, Shaun King, and Johnetta “Netta” Elzie take up a certain topic, then the media can see it because of their popular as gatekeepers and influencers, and the major role they play in the community.
Twitter is functioning like Reddit, Grygiel explained. Things get “up-voted” by retweeting and spreading, and it might get on the radar of a Shaun King or Deray McKesson. Once an influencer puts the information out, they’re like editors who determine that these are the things that should be made known and focused on. “They’re not just getting stuff through social media, but they’re going out and meeting with key people too,” said Grygiel. “I think that’s how it gets on the radar of the media.”
The scope of Black Twitter to reach the media is a true testament to its power, and the power of Black people. It shows strength, resilience and it’s telling the narrative of the new Black history.
“We’re popular because we made ourselves popular,” said Philippe. “Because social media has so little bounds, we can be ourselves to our fullest extent in that arena.”
Black Twitter is Black people being themselves, which is important because there wasn’t always an opportunity to do so. Brian H. Waters, a social media producer for The Wresting Wrealm, WSU Wresting and Johns Hopkins Medicine describes it as place where Black people speak their opinions with a no-hold bar.
It’s real, raw and honest. Black Twitter speaks the truth, which is freeing and liberating for Black people. It inspires users to be who they are, which in turn are trendsetters in society and in the social space.
As the early adopters of Twitter, Black people were some of the early content creators of memes, GIFs, social video and disseminating information via the platform.
“When it comes to pop culture, all the fire memes are coming from Black Twitter,” said Finley. “All the entertainment, jokes, viral videos are coming for Black Twitter. Our lingo, the fashion that we wear, the shows we watch, the music we’re listening to, the activists we’re uplifting, and these dope movements are all coming from Black people online.”
The trends, hashtags, jokes that circulate on Twitter either come out of Black Twitter or are amplified because of it. Black Twitter is a house that generates a lot of popular content that is spread throughout the Internet due to Black people being themselves, being innovators.
“I think it’s inherent for Black people to be innovators,” said Carter. “Historically, we’ve been innovators. We’ve long played an important role in pop culture in the U.S., and our influence is strong.
From music to sports to the arts, the influence of Black people in America runs strong, but often goes unrecognized or with little recognition. There is often no credit given to the creators of the content that is generating such buzz. It’s almost as using someone’s likeness without compensation.
“Black Twitter is a content factory,” said King. “It provides the content that is driving a lot of our digital publications and mainstream publications. What are those publications giving us in return?”
Various publications are taking content from Black Twitter and not giving credit to the people who are created the content, even a simple tweet. A lot of social media’s favorite listicles are examples of taking from Black Twitter without giving credit by screenshotting the posts and not linking to the content creator’s account or place of origin, expressed Jolicoeur.
“I think there’s a lot of cultural miming on Black Twitter,” said Spruce. “There are certain news sites that create these listicles off tweets that people have, share it on Black Twitter and then make money from it.”
Although the issue of credibility is apparent, it doesn’t stop Black Twitter from being the source powerhouse that it is on social media. It’s rewriting the narrative of the new Black History where the documents are out for the world to see instead of being retold through a different lens.
“Black Twitter is beyond the first draft of history,” said L’Pree. “This is raw information about what’s happening. This is pure data; this is pure documents.”
She believes that allowing the people of the community to tell their own story, in the form of social media posts, almost always ensures a more honest story. This is the history that will be told years from now in textbooks to children because the information and documents are raw and not retold and rewritten.
In homage to Maxine Waters (Black Twitter affectionately calls her Aunty Maxine) Black Twitter is reclaiming its history, and it’s time with the content that is posted.
Black Twitter is here to stay. No matter if Twitter disappears tomorrow, there will be another version of Black Twitter because Black people love their phones, said Finley.
“We love communicating with each other, sharing jokes, sharing information and memes,” she said.
Black Twitter is what it is because we got tired of waiting for mainstream media to give us a voice, so we did it ourselves, Finley expressed. Black people can go out and do something about it themselves, and make their news known.
“As long as there are Black people, there will always be Black Twitter, and that’s because the community will continue to use Twitter in the same way to give access to issues and ideas that are important to the community,” said Spruce. “To help the people who has been judiciously killed; to help the woman who created ‘on fleek’ get some exposure; to crowdfund for a community member who needs some extra help; to tweet a movie script and get it seen by Ava Duvernay, Rihanna and Lupita, and take that tweet now be in development for a film. It’s not going anywhere.”
THE INFLUENCE OF #BLACKTWITTER ON OTHER COMMUNITIES
Black Twitter influences not only how Black people are seen in the media, but other online communities, as well.
“Black Twitter gets the biggest boost because [Blacks are] one of the longest, most intense, antagonistic, intergroup relationships we have in the United States,” said L’Pree. “When we see what Black folks are doing, we see what’s working, and other groups might adopt it as well. We see other smaller, ethnic groups doing something, and it catalyzes because Black folks do something similar.”
Black Twitter is older than other racial Twitter sub-groups, such as Asian Twitter or Latino Twitter, which makes its model attractive and admirable to other cultural sub-groups, said Freelon.
“It has its own space, which has made media pay attention to it,” he said. “Since the other communities haven’t been around for that long, it [Black Twitter] has the ability to build up, attract followers, generate the level of content that gets to the point where it’s covered by mainstream media.
This is what other Twitter sub-groups aspire to do. They aspire to set the trends, generate content and get media attention. They too, want to rewrite their history in a more accurate way.
LGBTQ Twitter, and so many more.
The influence of Black Twitter on social media goes back to the influence of Black people on society. Black people are trendsetters and will always be such.
African-Americans use social media at higher rates than most other groups. Right now, they comprise 22-percent of the audience on Twitter, but we make up 12-percent of the U.S. population, said Spruce. Black people are over-indexing on Twitter, which attributes to the major influence is has. It is truly a phenomenon that drives the platform and warrants research and studies as to how it out-performs other groups.
Currently, B.E.T. is conducting a study on Black Twitter that looks at the origin of over 150 of the most popular publicly available hashtags, which constitute over 30 million tweets, to help interested parties reach African-Americans in an authentic way, according to its website. Black Twitter is more than a community, it’s a demographic, a lifestyle, and it’s gaining attention in a positive way; voices are being heard.
African-Americans have the unique ability to drive conversations on social media, expressed Spruce. You that ability in the topics that are trending on Twitter, in the content that goes viral, in what’s shared on Facebook, and Instagram as well.
Black people are at the cusp of the trends that are being set because they set the bar for them. While some new stories go unreported, said Finley, other groups are following suit and beginning to set their own bar.
Latino Twitter is an example of this. In 2015, Latino Twitter began to become a force, like its sister community, Black Twitter. Latinos began to use Twitter to their advantage by tweeting about politics, social movements, lack of diversity in STEM and public offices, according to The Huffington Post.
#LatinoTwitter gained popularity at the later end of 2015, following in the footsteps of #BlackTwitter. It represented a unifying and strategic call for Latinos to begin organizing and creating calls to activism on Twitter. Just like Black Twitter, it’s a space where Latinos can collectively amplify their voices on the issues most impacting their community. From March 2014 to March 2016, #LatinoTwitter was used 31,596 times, and was identified as the most popular hashtag by Hispanic Twitter users, according to First Monday.
The hashtags #Latinx, #Latina, and #Latino were used to show the social media world what it means to be Latino in this day-and-age. The campaign #LatinasAreNot was also used to promote this same mission and defying negative stereotypes. #LatinoVote is another popular hashtag used in Latino Twitter to educate the Latino community on the importance of taking a stance in politics, voting and making a difference. Since 2016 was a big year for Latino voices in politics, the hashtag was also used to draw support for Latinos who were running for office. #NotMyAbuela was Latino Twitter’s way of mobilizing and political engagement. When Hillary Clinton compared herself to an abuela, Latino Twitter dragged her to no end, and made it known that she was wrong for making that comparison. It was out of touch, hypocritical, and offensive.
Black Twitter and Latino Twitter often intersect because of the nature of the issues that affect both communities because of race, culture, socio-economic status and more. A community that bridges the gap between the two is Afro-Latinos. Hashtags like, #BlackLivesMatter, #StandWithMizzou, and #Solidarity were used by Latino organizers and activists to stand in solidarity with incidents in the Black Lives Matter community, and Mizzou involving police brutality and structural racism impacting Black people. Afro-Latinos noted the intersections of these social justice movements, and reminded Latino and Black communities that these are their fights as well, according to Huffington Post.
Latinos have used Latino Twitter to position their heritage and cultural experiences. The hashtag summarizes the Latino cultural experience by allowing users to define the shape and scope of their culture, digital group, and community.
When there was an issue on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy about the performance and representation of Latinos on the show, Latino Twitter spoke out. They used their voice to position their community and reclaim their narrative. The representation in question was when a janitor didn’t seem to be portrayed as smart, which also fueled the question of, the lack of Latinos as doctors on television and in the media. Latino Twitter is carving out a space for what it means to be Latino, and not by mainstream media’s standards.
When then presidential candidate, Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, Latino Twitter showed their power for activism with the hashtag, #ThatMexicanThing is reaction to Mike Pence’s response on the matter. They didn’t hold back. In this moment, Latino Twitter showed solidarity and created buzz enough to make headlines with this empowering hashtag.
Asian Twitter is another rising social media community. Not as popular as Black Twitter or Latino Twitter, but it is on the radar of Twitter, and strives to be a safe space for those in the Asian community. One hashtag that showed that was #OscarsSoWhite and it spoke out against lack of diversity.
At the 2017 Oscars, Jackie Chan was recognized as a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, but Asian Twitter felt as though they were underrepresented. Just like Black Twitter and Latino Twitter, Asian Twitter used this time to make their voices heard and stick it to mainstream media, which got them some coverage and positioning with the media.
It’s influenced different communities, and made a name for it in the social media space. Black Twitter is a phenomenon like no other that connects people, and transcends barriers. It’s also what Black people have been doing for decades. Black people on Twitter have given the platform new life.
“Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter without Black Twitter,” said Finley.