The Top 7 things Black Twitter cares about (and you should too)
One month ago, I launched “Today in #BlackTwitter,” a daily digest and companion Twitter account (@todayinblk) that highlight trending news in the network of users. TIBT is based on algorithms that surface the top hashtags, links and accounts within a group of of identified users.
As former Manager of Journalism & News at Twitter and card-carrying Black guy, I’ve long been fascinated with how the discussions within the community evolve into global trending topics and major news stories. Since leaving Twitter, my self-imposed charge has been the visibility of Black issues, thus the creation of the site.
While the experimental, never-before-done project is not an attempt to explain Black Twitter. it is important to understand what means the most to African Americans, especially important in the age of #BlackLivesMatter. To that end, several recurring themes have emerged in the time that the site has been active.
1. Diversity on television
Most people, especially African Americans, have an innate desire to see faces that look like theirs in the media that they consume. It is natural then, that the television shows that consistently trend within Black Twitter feature a diverse cast. These include (in no particular order): Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, American Horror Story: Hotel, The Walking Dead, Empire, Love and Hip-Hop: Hollywood, Black-ish, Quantico, Melissa Harris-Perry and Scream Queens
Tweets about these shows dominate the platform during their airing. According to Nielsen’s Twitter TV rating, most of those listed have the greatest share of social conversation in their time slot.
2. A good hashtag
One would think that popular hashtags are usually started by someone with a lot of followers. However, since launching “Today in #BlackTwitter” I’ve found the opposite is more likely to be true. The most talked about hashtags in the last 30 days were started by people with less than 1,000 followers. The commonalities of trending hashtags are clear: a great idea, a shared experience, and a descriptive phrase after the octothorpe to increase the virality.
3. Celebrating #BlackExcellence
One of Black Twitter’s hallmarks is that it uplifts the achievements of those it holds in high regard. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of tweets are sent in praise of accomplishments that are a positive reflection of the community. Recent examples include Ava Duvernay cover gracing the cover of Essence Magazine, Issa Rae’s comedy series Insecure getting picked up by HBO, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ landmark book and prestigious MacArthur genius grant and the New York Times’ account of producer Mara Brock Akil’s profound impact on television.
In this same vein, October’s Women’s Freedom Conference, an online event focused on amplifying the voices of underrepresent women, is regarded by many as a pioneering achievement. The hashtag #WFC2015, which has been tweeted nearly 26,000 times, continues to trend.
4. Calling out repeat offenders
“The View” co-host Raven-Symoné and CNN anchor Don Lemon continue to draw the ire of Black Twitter. The former has been chastised for her questionable stances on the roles of African Americans in modern society. Lemon’s on-air representation of Black culture has been deplored by many for being knowingly unfavorable. A history of spikes in tweets mentioning their names are charted below:
In the last month, Anthony Mackie also received his share of side-eyes for his comments on Donald Trump and, separately, Black directors.
5. The pervasiveness of police brutality
In the last month, Corey Jones, James Blake, Amonderez Green and more have been added to the macabre roster of Black people whose encounters with police led to physical assault or death. Black Twitter refuses to let the memories of those who died be buried along with them. Their names become hashtags and the outcry catches the attention of publications that may not have otherwise reported on the egregious infractions.
Black Twitter is known for calling out news media on the denigration and/or erasure of Black people in their reportage. There are some publications that knowingly use coded language for shock value. Other times, writers are unaware of the gravity of their characterization. Neither are acceptable excuses.
When reviewing the faux pas of the last month, the reason for the consistent outcry from Black Twitter becomes even clearer: Cosmopolitan named The Kardashian/Jenners “America’s First Family”; US News’ Gabrielle Levy tweeted that Canada’s first family “might just out-glamour the Obamas”; @ElleUK declared “baby hairs” a new trend; Meryl Streep donned a shirt reading “I’d Rather Be a Rebel Than a Slave”; Rupert Murdoch praised Ben Carson in favor of a “real Black president”; GQ labeled Amber Rose a “baby mama”; Nicki Minaj called out a New York Times reporter for suggesting “a grown-ass woman [would] thrive off drama”; Teen Vogue called Mariah Carey “the original Ariana Grande”; The Times declared New York’s next culinary movement may be from the Caribbean; @WMag tweeted “Brooklyn is over. It’s all about the Bronx”; i-D failed to name Black supermodel and 8-time cover girl of their magazine Jourdan Dunn.
In some of these examples, the tweets were later deleted due to the rising chorus of voices. Conversely, articles written about facets of African-American culture by writers with healthy doses of melanin frequently go on to become viral within Black Twitter. These include Donovan X. Ramsey’s account “The Rise, Fall, and Improbable Comeback of Morris Brown College”, Ebony Magazine’s Bill Cosby cover story, the writings of The New Republic’s Jamil Smith and the New York Times columns of Roxane Gay and Charles Blow.
7. Black Twitter knows you’re watching
It is common knowledge that there is an egregious lack of writers of color in many newsrooms. The problem is further compounded when newsrooms continue to publish stories related to the Black experience authored by white employees. For me, the sentiment is encapsulated in a tweet earlier this year from BuzzFeed’s Saeed Jones.
The plunder of Black Twitter presents a conundrum for many: Should we continue to have important public discussions at the expense of having our tweets used elsewhere, often without notification? “Today in #BlackTwitter” was created with this in mind. It aims to highlight original sources of information wherever possible. Lists of randomly selected tweets that seem to be the go-to strategy for some is forgone in favor of the single most shared tweet. Our voices must be heard, not repackaged.
Black people have contributed handsomely to American culture for decades — from music and sports to the civil rights movement of the 60s and today. Black Twitter to some may appear to be just a series of fleeting discussions and funny hashtags. In actuality, it is a reflection of the rich history and ongoing movements that have characterized Black people in the country. Its impact should not be taken lightly.