How Black Twitter is Shaping the Online World
Black Twitter was never designed specifically for this particular purpose. Twitter is not a forum that allows users to create communities. But through retweets, follows, hashtags, and other modes of interaction the website allows — Twitter has become home to multitudes of influential networks. Among them, Black Twitter has emerged as a force.
Powered by cultural solidarity and shared experiences of the community — Black Twitter is perhaps the most powerful group on the website.
UVA assistant media studies professor Meredith Clark is currently working on a book on Black Twitter. While speaking to UVAToday, she put forward her definition of the website’s subsection. “I define “Black Twitter” as a network of culturally connected communicators using the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to black communities.
The professor points to the factor that glues millions of black social media users together, “It’s the culture that we grew up with. It’s the culture that we experienced in our lives and school, in the workplace, with entertainment — and you see conversations coalesce around specific cultural moments.” Clark explains.
There have been several moments where Black Twitter has proven itself to be a real force of nature. Hashtags such as #ICantBreath and #SayHerName in reaction to Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland’s tragic deaths have spurred entire movements.
When The Oscars did not nominate any black actors in prominent categories, the #OscarSoWhite trend called out the academy’s lack of effort to recognize the artists of color.
In many ways, Black twitterers have used the website as a platform to organize as a community and make their voices heard. And while Black Twitter gets most of the coverage in mainstream media for its activism, it’s hard to put it in a box.
A New Language Emerges
In the last few years — internet slang has inflated far beyond the usual LOLs and LMAOs — and it seems much of these words and expressions are owed to the African American Twitter.
The professor of corpus linguistics at the University of Birmingham, Jack Grieve, recently examined over a billion tweets from the United States to understand the origin of new vocabulary on the forum.
The vocabulary forum study revealed many enlightened findings. It traced back words that are now mainstream to answer which part of the country is most linguistically creative. The study looks at new words and concepts, and where they emerge from, geographically. “What is the point of origin of a word before it spreads outward?” Grieve asks.
African American English
While the answers to these questions were in the affirmative, the study makes another conclusion. “African American English is the main source of lexical innovation on American Twitter.”
Among the terms categorized as emerging words were “thotful,” “scute” and “nahr.” Researchers pointed out five “common regional patterns” while explaining how these words appeared. The detailed discussion includes patterns form the Mid-Atlantic and DC, the Deep South centered around Atlanta, the Gulf coast focused on New Orleans, the West Coast around California, and the Northwest and New York.
The Deep South, in particular, is exceptional in how it spreads new terms. Most Twitter lingo originates in densely populated urban areas and then travels to other urban centers of the country. However, the lexicon created in the Deep South spreads via areas where there is a large segment of the black population.
Atlanta, which is considered the center of African American culture, churns out a significant number of creative new words despite having a smaller population than cities like New York and LA. The study points out that among the five identified patterns, three are primarily associated with African American English. The spread of the African American population is reflected and can be identified in these patterns.
Areas like Georgia and North Carolina, which are incredibly innovative when it comes to language, are not necessarily the most populated areas of the country. But these states have a high percentage of stable African American communities.
These are some examples of the emerging vocabulary on Twitter in the study.
These words and phrases have percolated for several years since the study — and have now become staples of style and expression in mainstream media.
The mainstream media has shown that a significant part of a larger phenomenon is occurring. What we are experiencing now is that Black American culture is influencing the overall American culture — and in turn, the global pop-culture.
Whether the influence is coming from music, sports, or contemporary fashion — Black American icons such as Ray Charles, Will Smith, and Michael Jordan have defined what’s cool and what’s not. Black Twitter is the extension of this trend in the digital realm.
What Does the Future Hold for Black Twitter?
Back in 2014, brands such as IHOP embraced the words from Black Twitter for marketing purposes.
Pancakes on fleek.
- IHOP (@IHOP) October 21, 2014
Later on, companies such as Denny’s, Domino’s Pizza, and many other corporations jumped on the bandwagon. These days, brands using vocabulary crafted by African Americans are not rare and that’s something Michelle Taylor, also known as Feminista Jones has elaborated in her discussion with The Root.
“When you can change the way companies market and brand their products because you are in this collective, that’s power. When you can swing votes. That’s power. There are so many things that black people — Black Twitter — have been able to do as a collective that reflect the power that we have, just as a people.” -Michelle Taylor
The power, visibility and influence of Black Twitter show no sign of slowing down. With the ingenuity of the African American youth — having an open platform in the shape of Twitter — the direction of pop culture will be heavily influenced by this vibrant subsection of society, in the days to come.