In this episode, we deep dive into how Black Twitter exists on the platform and the unspoken (but somehow still agreed upon) rules of engagement. #SayItLoudPBS
– [Azie] Thanks to CuriosityStream for supporting
PBS Digital Studios.
– Alright, everybody, we all just heard
what just happened in the news.
We have a 60-second window to react
before another thing happens in the news.
You, create a hashtag that is scathing,
culturally relevant, and hilarious all at the same time.
You, remix the footage so that it becomes a meme
referenced more than the original source material.
You, patrol all news outlets
so that when they speak of this day,
they call us by name.
get someone fired!
– Someone, like, should I get on LinkedIn?
You know, what, I fire me.
Look, we’ll give you a quick rundown,
but we’re not here to convince anyone
that Black Twitter exists.
If you know, you know.
– We want to explore why it exists
and what happens both online and IRL when
culture and connectivity collide.
As far as Black Twitter’s origins go,
here’s what we found.
In February 2009, about three years
after the platform’s creation, the term
first appeared in Google’s search volume index.
That just means that someone, somewhere
tried looking it up enough times
that Google started tracking that particular search.
– In October 2009, Pew Research Center
reported that Black Americans used Twitter
more than the other demographics polled.
And in November 2009, writer Choire Sicha
published a short blog post titled
“What Were Black People Talking About
” On Twitter Last Night?”
In it, he revealed his obsession
with the unique way Black users used hashtags.
– [Evelyn] The following year, articles from Slate, The Root
with alternating opinions Gawker, and NPR
all take notice of this phenomenon.
– Across the platform, about 500 million tweets
are fired off per day.
So how do individual Black people come together
to form Black Twitter?
– That’s what made Black Twitter
so innovative and disruptive.
Its members used hashtags to talk
about seemingly random, regular, not-time-sensitive stuff
with such voracity that it would trend.
Since that original Pew Research Center study
in 2009, more people have researched
what makes the internet such an active place
for Black folks.
– I often times say that you know,
in my sort of research and looking at Black Twitter,
and young peoples use of Twitter,
that they move from kind of power users to powerful users.
Power users, rather, are people
who might use Twitter right, at an exceptional rate
compared to other populations,
or segments of the population.
But powerful is something different right?
Powerful is sort of using in a way
to have social impact.
And so in that sense, I think as people begin
to understand the potential that social media provides
in terms of a tool for connecting,
a tool for building, a tool for communicating,
a tool for organizing, that their beginning
to understand like, how to be powerful,
and not just power in terms
of how they’re using the technology.
– Trending topics were usually about current events.
But #YouKnowYoureBlackIf, #BlackMomsBeLike,
and the late-night #uainthittinitright
that Choire referenced in his piece
were all forms of storytelling, as opposed to updates.
– We wanted to know exactly how one becomes a member
of Black Twitter.
Are there rules, or at least, consistent practices?
So I reached out to my friend Kiana Tipton for help.
She has a masters degree in Twitter!
– Well actually my alma mater didn’t quite offer
a masters in Black Twitter.
Although, sometime I tell people (laughs)
I have a masters in Black Twitter.
And nobodies checked me on it, so.
Black Twitter is not an actual space
and it’s also not a homogeneous group
where everyone looks the same,
everyone talks about the same things,
and everyone cares about the same things.
I think in order to participate in Black Twitter
and to be a part of it you have to have
that cultural competency.
Essentially it mirrors in real life
conversations that Black people are having.
So, some of those things are community,
call and response, that is really common in Black language.
And of course, there’s humor.
And I think both community and call and response
lend itself to that humorous aspect.
– It’s not all fun and games on Twitter.
– Black Twitter consistently uses hashtag campaigns
to organize around a social or political cause.
#SayHerName, created in Sandra Bland’s honor,
highlights the often hidden plight
of Black women affected by political injustice
or police brutality.
Mainstream media’s tendency to publicize
a victim’s most stereotypical photos
after an unarmed Black person is killed,
And of course #BlackLivesMatter,
which is now an international activist organization.
– #Whatadoctorlookslike empowered Black female doctors
and med students to take pride in their profession.
Black Twitter’s hashtag campaigns
can also be pointed at a specific person.
#MuteRKelly aims to keep an accused sexual predator
from working in show business.
#MeToo aims to highlight the frequency
of sexual violence and harassment,
and is an example of a Black activist’s initiative
becoming widely used throughout the Twitterverse
and larger culture.
– Take a look through #BlackBoyJoy,
and you’ll find men and boys celebrating themselves
and their right to be viewed as happy
and carefree in a society that often pegs them as a threat.
Search #BlackGirlMagic and you’ll see women and girls
celebrating the things that make them special and beautiful.
– #GirlsLikeUs and #TransIsBeautiful,
both started by Black women,
made space for the diverse experiences
and expressions of trans people.
– See, we can be serious.
– These hashtags can connect us in our loneliest times.
But academics have described what it is we’re doing
when we chime in on #BlackMomsBeLike,
we’re performing our racial or ethnic identities.
– Our fairy godfather Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
academically coined the term Signifyin’.
– It’s an act that usually takes place in person,
but Dr. Sarah Florini argues that online,
in the absence of a physical body,
Black Twitter users perform their racial identity
by using wordplay or references
that only those with deep experience-based knowledge
of Black U.S. culture can recognize.
– A good example of this is #AskRachel,
where people posed a series
of multiple choice questions to stump Rachel Dolezal,
as if to say “If you were really Black, you’d know this.”
– Signifyin’ is so second nature
that it’s hard to fake the funk.
That’s why we can spot a perpetrator.
You know those fake accounts.
You know the ones.
They got like 5 tweets from ten minutes ago
and the slang they use is just off.
Like Kendrick said, “You sound like the feds, homie.”
– We also participate in Black Twitter
to create cultural capital.
There’s a sense of pride and elevated status associated
with the ability to effectively execute
a culturally significant piece of content.
AKA keep the retweets coming!
– I mean that’s why we get so hype
to add our two cents on a popular Black Twitter hashtag.
We want to be part of a larger group, gain acceptance
and have our experiences affirmed by peers.
And we do this in layers!
Adding visuals like gifs, memes,
video clips to create one big cultural inside joke.
– Your cultural capital can reach such viral heights
that it should make some financial capital.
Like these guys.
You can giggle at comedian Jaboukie Young-White’s jokes
on Twitter and on the TV shows
he now writes for and stars in.
– Author Luvvie Ajayi’s live tweets during Scandal
were legendary. – Yes!
– And the pop culture commentator’s first book
has been optioned by Shonda Rhimes herself
for development into a comedy series.
– Jay Versace brings joy to millions for free
with his videos and we want his creative genius
in more commercial work.
– We fresh outta Sprite!
– We’ll link to some resources that tackle how
Black youth culture online is often exploited.
– I hope to never see a fast food chain tweet
“on fleek” ever again.
So, We’ve invited Kiana here to help us
analyze our tweets, professionally. (laughs)
Because we need to know if we Black Twittering correctly?
And that is your expertise, right?
– Yes, this is my dream day.
– So let’s start with Azie, when did you get on Twitter?
– I think I got on Twitter in 2009.
– But I just remember that I was just an egg.
– Oh yeah, you didn’t have a photo! (laughing)
– Yeah, I didn’t have a photo, I didn’t know,
and I wrote, “Is this thing on?”
– I think I started mine in 2007,
yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing, either.
– I think you have to have,
you have to cultivate that community
and friend group, so it’s kind of like a group chat.
Because until you have that it’s like,
I’m talking to myself! – Yeah I didn’t get the point.
– So I was really mad about this college acceptance scandal.
So I started talking about how I got into college,
how it was really hard.
“Lemme tell you something, almost any person of color
” who is in college or university beat generational
” layers of instability and poverty to get there.
” Even if they were middle class they were,
” statistically speaking, one mistake away
” from losing everything.”
Guys, I was having a moment.
– This is intense.
– And 50 retweets, that’s popular.
– How many? – 50.
– Oh, that’s popular, okay. (all laughing)
– There’s a call and response element to it.
So, there’s something going on I the news
and you are talking about that in a way
that a lot of other Black people will relate to
and you can see that through how many retweets you got.
And also, in this kind of shared experience
that other Black college students,
or Black people that have gone to college have experienced.
Also, the thread element which I find really interesting,
is something that Twitter added several years
after creating the platform kind of to
to be able to facilitate conversations
in a way that mirrors offline conversation.
– Okay, let’s see what my most retweeted tweet is.
So, (laughs) it’s actually a retweet.
So my most retweeted, tweet is me retweeting something.
– Oh my gosh! – And it’s that Tyra Banks
like meme, so the persons original tweet was,
“We want your culture but you evicted.”
And so I retweeted it and I was like,
“Wow, a poem by Austin, Texas.”
and so, people really liked that.
– So people, and then the first person who wrote back said,
“And Atlanta, And Brooklyn, and Seattle.”
– So, this is a quote tweet.
This is what we in the academic Twitter world
like to call a quote tweet.
This is also a newer addition from Twitter
originally they didn’t allow you to do this.
You could retweet what someone else said
or you could add to it,
but you couldn’t add on, on top of that tweet.
– Uh-huh. – Oh, right!
– So, this is something that’s probably within
the last fix or six years.
But it’s another way that have changed
the actual interface and algorithm of the platform
to facilitate conversations in meaningful ways.
But what is funny about this and also
kind of like mimics the way that Black people
have conversations is that you have this tweet that’s funny
and then it’s like, you’re kind of adding on to it.
– Yeah, yeah.
– Like, let me make this funnier.
– So, thanks Kiana, for going down memory lane with us,
and exploring our tweets. – Of course.
– We will continue to Black Twitter
to the best of our abilities
and not get dragged hopefully in the future
for saying dumb stuff.
– Who would have known that a social media platform
that restricted you to 140 characters would become a vibrant
community for so many people?
– We could be arguing over sugar grits vs the correct ones,
or more serious conversations
around codeswitching and workplace etiquette.
And when they upgraded to 280 characters?
More space for more shenanigans
without having to shorten your, to U R,
like it’s an AOL chat room.
– #TBT, y’all.
Whether it’s used to demand political change,
help people find community,
or just make us cackle uncontrollably,
Black Twitter has value.
– And of course, we’re scared
of getting dragged by Black Twitter
– Ah, did I just delete my tweets from 2010?
– In that way, Black Twitter keeps us responsible,
always thinking about the implications of what we say.
And if we ever need anything from a laugh
to a full-on take-down?
We know who to call.
(sirens wailing) (Evelyn cackles)
– Let us know if you’re part of Black Twitter and why.
Share this video on your twitter and @ us!
– We’ll see you next time.
– Bye! – Bye!
Thank you to CuriosityStream
for supporting PBS Digital Studios.
CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming service
that offers documentaries and non-fiction titles
from a variety of filmmakers,
including CuriosityStream originals.
For example, they have,
“King: A Filmed Record Montgomery To Memphis.”
The doc uses archival footage of Martin Luther King Jr.,
but what if we also had his tweets?
You can learn more at curiositystream.com/sayitloud.
Click here to watch previous episodes of “Say It Loud.”
Click here to watch
“Roy Wood Jr. deep dive into Black Twitter”
for the “Daily Show”
and click here to watch Blavity’s hilarious sketch
“If Black Twitter Went On A Date With You”.
(bright tinkling chimes)
What’s your take? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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