Yesterday Netflix released Deaf U, which is not your average reality TV show. Immediately, you get dropped into rich and vibrant Deaf culture, where hands fly with sign language, and a controversial social hierarchy exists based on one’s degree of cultural Deafness.
But like almost every other reality TV show, Deaf U hypes up what sells — sex, partying, and drama. There isn’t a minute in an actual classroom.
Some in the Deaf community hope that despite this angle, presenting these topics through a Deaf lens will help redefine mainstream society’s perceptions about deafness, by giving them something familiar, relatable, and compelling.
Others are concerned that Deaf culture is being portrayed in an inaccurate or potentially damaging way, especially since for many viewers, Deaf U is the first time they’re seeing this world.
Here we take a peek at the conversation on Twitter, during the first 24 hours that Deaf U has been on Netflix. Even as brief as this glimpse is, we can see very different reactions from the Deaf and hearing communities.
The conversation around a 24-hour clock
This spider plot shows tweet activity around a 24-hour clock, where 3 marks the moment that Netflix released Deaf U. In Eastern Time, this was 3 AM, October 9, 2020. Most people tweeted in the late afternoon, with the conversation peaking at 8 PM. Over the full 24-hour period, the conversation sparked 1,672 tweets.
Most frequent words
I pooled together the text from each tweet, removed non-alphabetic characters and meaningless words such as “the,” “is,” and “at,” and extracted the top 500 words. I also took into consideration bigrams and trigrams, which are two or three words that frequently appear together, such as “first episode” or “hard of hearing.”
Top 10 emojis
- 😂 (63)
- 😭 (44)
- ❤️ (32)
- 🤣 (29)
- 👏 (28)
- 🤟 (23)
- 🥺 (16)
- 🥴 (13)
- 🤩 (12)
- 🤦 (10)
- 👀 (9)
Top 5 most-liked positive tweets:
I cleaned these tweets using Python and then rated them using TextBlob, setting the polarity threshold at >0.05 for positive tweets, and <-0.05 for negative tweets.
Top 5 most-liked negative tweets:
While most of the most-liked positive tweets come from the hearing community, most of the most-liked negative tweets come from the Deaf community.
Hearing vs. Deaf response
Here we compare the proportion of the conversation coming from the hearing community versus the Deaf community. The Deaf response is quantified by those that put “deaf” or “hard-of-hearing” in their Twitter bio.
About twenty percent of the tweets originate from users who self-identify as deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Interestingly, while we see a marked difference in which community is generating the most-liked positive or negative tweets, the overall proportions of positivity and negativity is nearly identical in both communities.
In its first 24 hours, Deaf U has appealed equally to both the hearing and Deaf communities. Whereas hearing people are able to enjoy whatever perspective they get — especially the juicy reality TV one — Deaf people are more aware about issues within their community, and they have understandably framed their critiques of Deaf U with these issues in mind.
This connects back to initial concerns that the Deaf experience is not being portrayed accurately, or even fully. This is evident with the lack of Black Deaf women in the show. Deaf U carries a lot of burden being the first reality TV show to spotlight Deaf people, with expectations to encapsulate an entire culture. We need more representation, because Deaf culture is so much more than Deaf U.