Twitter has become more powerful than the inventors imagined. It has created new stars and given a voice to the everyday man or woman in the street. It has also caused people to lose jobs, lose endorsements, and brought down Governments. According to a 2013 report, 26 percent of African Americans who use the Internet use Twitter, compared to 14 percent of online white, non-Hispanic Americans. In addition, 11 percent of African-American Twitter users say they use Twitter at least once a day, compared to 3 percent of white users. Of course, these figures could have doubled by now in 2015, but one this is for sure, there is powerful movement online formed of mostly black people who use Twitter.
According to Shani O’Hilton (@shani_o) writing in 2013, the defining characteristic of Black Twitter is that its members “a) are interested in issues of race in the news and pop culture and b) tweet A LOT.” She adds that while the community includes thousands of black Twitter users, in fact
“not everyone within Black Twitter is black,
and not every black person on Twitter is in Black Twitter”.
She also notes that the viral reach and focus of Black Twitter’s hashtags have transformed it from a mere source of entertainment, and object of outside curiosity, to “a cultural force in its own right … Now, black folks on Twitter aren’t just influencing the conversation online, they’re creating it.
The aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin brought Black Twitter to wider public attention.
Having been the topic of a 2012 SXSW Interactive panel led by Kimberly Ellis, Black Twitter came to wider public attention in July 2013, when it was credited with having stopped a book deal between a Seattle literary agent and one of the jurors in the trial of George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was controversially acquitted that month of charges stemming from the February 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida.
Black Twitter’s swift response to the juror’s proposed book, spearheaded by Twitter user Genie Lauren (@MoreAndAgain), who launched a change.org petition, resulted in coverage on CNN.
Causing an Arrest
Zimmerman had only been arrested and charged after a large-scale social media campaign including petitions circulated on Twitter that attracted millions of signatures.
The community was also involved in June 2013 in protesting to companies selling products by Paula Deen, the celebrity chef, after she was accused of racism, reportedly resulting in the loss of millions of dollars’ worth of business. A #paulasbestdishes hashtag game started by writer and humorist Tracy Clayton (@brokeymcpoverty) went viral
In August 2013, outrage on Black Twitter over a Harriet Tubman “sex parody” video Russell Simmons had posted on his Def Comedy Jam website persuaded Simmons to remove the video; he apologized for his error in judgment.
After Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed resident Michael Brown, a high school student in Houston, Texas, named Tyler Atkins tweeted an informal photo of himself in casual clothes including a T-shirt and a bandana, and a second photo of himself posing with his prized saxophone. Atkins claimed that if the police shot him down, media would broadcast the photo of him wearing a T-shirt and a bandana and not the photo of him posing with his saxophone.
Not all Black
The fascinating thing to remember is that black twitter is not all black. Many times, it is joined by non-black tweeters who share the same opinions and outrage over someone being racist or unfair practices.
When PR representative for IAC, Justine Sacco, published a tweet saying “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” before boarding her plane, she gave Black Twitter several hours to publicly shame her for her racist implications about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Users denounced her racism and demanded action from her employer, questioning whether they wanted someone like her representing their company. The tweet #HasJustineLandedYet was a Trending Topic within hours and by the time Justine had landed, she was out a job.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was created by black activists on Twitter who felt that African Americans received unequal treatment by law enforcement. This was used after the offending officer who shot an unarmed black man, was not charged. Then it seemed that this was a regular occurence, as it happened in other cities across America, and demonstrations became common place.
#blackLivesMatter was eventually responded to by the white majority with the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite. In those tweets, white people gave instances of when they were let off by the Police. Some statements were astounding. It made people become aware of the different experiences we all have.
Black Twitter brought out white confessions to the world. Brian Rice, made a video of the highlights.
Who knew that all of this was going on? Thanks to the Black Twitterati, people have been led to confess of times when they got away with crimes. The same type of crimes which black people would have been locked up, or worse still – shot.
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, a former writer for The Root, cautions that Black Twitter is just a slice of contemporary African-American culture. “For people who aren’t on the inside,” he writes, “it’s sort of an inside look at a slice of the black American modes of thought. I want to be particular about that—it’s just a slice of it. Unfortunately, it may be a slice that confirms what many people already think they know about black culture.” But I disagree. It is more than a slice. Black Twitter includes the street, slangs, academics, professors, teachers, entertainers, the black media, the liberals, preachers, educators, writers and so much more.
Daniella Gibbs Leger (@dgibber123), writing in HuffPost Black Voices, said, “Black Twitter is a real thing. It is often hilarious (as with the Paula Deen recipes hashtag); sometimes that humor comes with a bit of a sting (see any hashtag related to Don Lemon).” Referring to the controversy over the Tubman video, she concluded, “1. Don’t mess with Black Twitter because it will come for you. 2. If you’re about to post a really offensive joke, take 10 minutes and really think about it. 3. There are some really funny and clever people out there on Twitter.