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Things That Are Not Surprising: Black People Use Twitter

This was the image Slate ran with the story. So many wrong things. So. Many. Wrong. Things.Are you a black person? Do you use the internet? Do you like social networking? OMG! Are you on "The Twitter?!?!" One of the downsides about being a minority is that when you do something everyone else gawks and stares at you as they never really think about you that much anyway, hence they can't believe that you would talk about something on the Twitter "they" wouldn't be talking about. Or that there would be enough of you chatting on the Twitter to make trending topics. Yet! There you are! Making trending topics! How on Earth did this happen? The Awl was the first site I noticed to stand and gawk at something they called "Black People's Twitter," which I always thought was "bored teenagers up late at night on their smart phones, talking shit." But, you know, a lot of those teenagers are black and they manage to get trending topics going so THIS IS A THING! And apparently it needs to be discussed and we need to understand "why." Our friends at (and their over-sized baseball cap wearing, black Twitter bird*) are on the case!

More after the jump.

From Slate:

What explains the rise of tags like #wordsthatleadtotrouble? Are black people participating in these types of conversations more often than nonblacks? Are other identifiable groups starting similar kinds of hashtags, but it's only those initiated by African-Americans that are hitting the trending topics list? If that's true, what is it about the way black people use Twitter that makes their conversations so popular? Then there's the apparent segregation in these tags. While you begin to see some nonblack faces after a trending topic hits Twitter's home page, the early participants in these tags are almost all black. Does this suggest a break between blacks and nonblacks on Twitter—that real-life segregation is being mirrored online?

After watching several of these hashtags from start to finish and talking to a few researchers who've studied trends on Twitter, I've got some potential answers to these questions. Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It's this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.

I like the Twitter and use it often. (Follow me @blacksnob!) But I honestly don't read too deeply into it. Meaning, black people to me are on Twitter about as much as black people were on MySpace or Facebook. Meaning, everyone I know personally who has been online has had a MySpace or is on Facebook and Twitter and, back in the day, had a page on Black Planet. The notion of things like "Facebook is largely white," seems crazy pants to me, as every black person I know is on Facebook and since 2009, when Facebook hit the mainstream, even people I never expected to be online have popped up there. Facebook only seems white because a lot of white people only know other white people on Facebook. (It was initially started as a page for Harvard college kids, after all.) Just as a lot of black people on Facebook only know other black people. This is not hard to figure out.

Despite popular belief, black people are online. We're under-represented in some areas, but the advent smart phones have really bridged the gap for some people. Folks who don't have access to computers are able use a Blackberry or an iPhone to access the Web. I've been online since 1996 and I've used computers since I was 10. Yet much like discovering a country where people are already living, anytime the mainstream picks up on something that black people have been doing since forever (wasting time on the internet, shooting the shit like everyone else) it is supposed to be indicative of some larger, big, mysterious thing.

So I'm going to let the world in on the "secrets" of black people on Twitter:

Why are black people on Twitter? Why is everyone on Twitter? The crap is a good way to waste time.

Why do we tweet so much? Why did Lindsey Lohan tweet so much before she went to jail-hab? Some people like to tweet! Some of those people are black but not all those people are black people.

Why are there clusters of black folks who know each other? Um ... friends-of-a-friend? Business associates? Colleagues? Classmates? Relatives? Blog readers? Same reason why there are clusters of witty, urban white gay bloggers who know all the other witty urban white gay bloggers and follow them. Or clusters of Asian writers who follow other Asians. Or tech geeks who follow other techies. Or dirty hipsters who follow other dirty hipsters. There's a whole world on Twitter of Glenn Beck followers and Tea Partiers that I don't know jack crap about because I don't follow those people. But I know they exist. Why is it necessarily more surprising that there are clusters of black people using Twitter as opposed to right wingers? What makes them more fascinating than Beck followers?

But why the trending topic domination at night? Bored teenagers playing with smart phones is always the answer. After all, some white teens and tweens spend a CRAZY amount of time making sure Justin Bieber is a trending topic in some form. It's never special blackity-black thing. Or Lupus.

Now, naturally, I'm sure the author of Slate's piece on black people on Twitter meant well. He was probably just understandably curious. After all, he interviewed a bunch of black people I follow on Twitter who all happen to be either popular bloggers or former writers for The Root. Which is ... OMG! A CLUSTER! Black writers and nerds all follow each other! EEK! Is that a thing? Of course, the cluster of black folks I'm in is a weird mix of folks who LOVE making up "ghetto" hashtags on Twitter and a bunch of intellectuals who get mad at the people for making up hashtags instead of tweeting about Haiti. Where's my study on that? Do white people do this to each other as well? Do they do that thing where you're having a great time retweeting whatever mess Kanye West is saying and one of your friends is all "Ignorance is the seed that gives root to our people's destruction!" Then sends you a link to some Farrakhan? And you tell them to lighten up, because it's only Twitter, but they go on a lengthy rant about limited role of African Americans in the media and how if it appears that a lot of us are wasting time tweeting #ghettobabynames the white folks will read it and make racist assumptions about us based on those tweets and reinstate slavery? And you go "unfollow." And they go "unfollow and BLOCKED!" And then they announce it on their timeline and everyone laughs at you because you just got all dramatic over Twitter?


Interesting ...

*Can I just say how kind of wrong that Twitter bird is? One. The Twitter bird is blue. Blue is not a race. It's not anything. Why make the bird brown? Two. Why is the bird wearing an over-sized fitted baseball cap? Is the bird named Tyronne and is he from St. Louis? Does he say things like "I'm from the Durrty" when referring to his hometown? Three. Why not go all they way with the stereotypes? Where is the bird's diamond fronts? Where is his gold chain that says "Bling" on it? Where are his tats? Where is his scantily dressed bird bitch with a bad weave? Where is his doo-rag and feather cornrows? EXPLAIN! If you're going to come off as insensetive, don't waste time being ambigious! Go the full ghetto bird. Make the Twitter bird a diseased pigeon named "Chauncey" who goes by @chigga69 smoking a Swisher Sweet. Or a brown rooster named Cockafella Dynasty Sign.

UPDATE: In the comments, tmainbk left a link to Instant Vintage where you can see a pleathora of "black" Twitter birds. Including one with rims! And one with a doo rag. And even a light-skinned one! You know? For your light-skinnned black Twitter users. Aw, internetz. I love you.

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Reader Comments (38)

I read this yesterday and got a real National Geographic "gawking at the others" feeling from the piece. "If black people are 12.5% of the U.S. population and only 25% of Twitter users, how are they dominating trending topics with their blacktags?!? Let's follow our cameraman for a closer look. Shhhh..."

I have only been on Twitter (@tmainbk...follow me!) for a week (I was very resistant to joining, as I don't need yet another time suck). I've seen that it can be great for building connections and getting information rapidly. It is also a platform for foolishness and "ratchet" behavior. However, black folks are not the only ones engaging in said foolishness (shout out to @DRUNKHULK!). You hit the nail on the head...the networks on social media platforms mimic those in real life. And teenagers have way too much free time and access to expensive electronics.

No comments on the "black" twitter bird. So sad. However, if you would like to have a copy for your own purposes, you can get them from Alicia at here. My favorites are the ones with the afro and the headwrap.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertmainbk

LMAO @ everything in the asterisk. That is all...

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRum Punch

I've become fascinated with the fascination of black folks on twitter.

Quite frankly, I think it's really about the fact that white folks really view our interactions with each other as special and different (because they are at least different) and twitter offers them the chance to watch these interactions like flies on a wall.

I have random white folks following me (join them - @ASmith86) and I CAN'T figure out why -- like what in my timeline drew them in? Was it my bio (can't be)? Was it my beautiful picture (yes, this is most likely it...) Anyway, all these studies and articles and whatever else they're writing to make this seem like a phenomenon worthy of outside attention is just to make it ok for them to watch us in wonder as they always have...

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA.Smith

Delurking...Historically, aren't many of the trends in American culture started by Blacks and more specifically Black teenagers/youth? Twitter just allows everyone to watch and folllow the "trends" without having to be physically near. Still the original article is suspect.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanaW

who cares how many black people use twitter..
hell how many black people actually write for Slate?
Chances are..not too many...maybe they should look into that.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter[flahy][blak][chik]

I think I love you. Yeah, I do.

Thanks for linking me! =D

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

I just blogged on this myself because I'm still trying to process this article. Or maybe I'm trying to process how most people see no challenge in processing it. I was hoping to suss out a multitude of blog posts like this one b/c I knew I couldn't be along in my jaw-on-the-floor-ness. For. the. LOVE.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

exactly to everything i 've spent the morning arguing back and forth with @FManjoo on twitter. He obviously doesnt get it or is an excellent actor at playing dumb or maybe both. Anyways as always thank you D for your great pov!

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL Martin Johnson Pratt

He responded to my post and I think he genuinely doesn't understand what we're trying to convey. Which, to me, just further makes it an illustration of how there's such a disconnect.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

This tweet from @FManjoo is killing me:

I spoke to several black people. They're quoted in the article.

His article did not need to be written. You nailed it, Danielle.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott Hanselman

The Slate article in a sentence: Negroes are on the internet - who the hell left the gate open?

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterI Am Your People

I can't believe Slate paid someone to write this stupid article. We're so "other" that even the fact we type on computers and go to social sites is supposed to be fascinating? Good post Snob, but I want 50 seconds of my life back and the brain cell I lost after reading the quote from Slate.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCocoa Fly

Can I just say that this post gave me a much needed laugh? The article itself caused me to feel some type of way because I'm a researcher (okay, let me point out that I'm also Black but that's neither here nor there). So I said something about it. Then I saw J. Danielle's response on mediastrut...and I mentioned that I'm waiting on the day that we are studied for making sandwiches with bread...just like everyone else. Then I saw the response from Instant Vintage and it did what I so desperately wanted to do but was unable because I lack Adobe Photoshop. Those birds...those birds gave me life.

But you took it. My last breath was spent gasping for air (and struggling to write this comment) because of everything you wrote in the little section marked with an asterisk. You nailed my coffin shut with:

"Make the Twitter bird a diseased pigeon named "Chauncey" who goes by @chigga69 smoking a Swisher Sweet. Or a brown rooster named Cockafella Dynasty Sign."

And I thank you! I lived a good life.

Here lies the blogger formerly known as MissCJayne and the tweep formerly known as @complex_smplcty

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

This blog post wins the internet.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRhome

"Where is his doo-rag and feather cornrows? EXPLAIN!"

*screaming with laughter*

This has been the best source of comedy.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDelux

The slate article wasn't the first foray into this madness:

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

Best article I've seen on this all day. I tossed out some thoughts on the whole thing here that linked to you, just as fyi:

peace miss!

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKismet

I wrote an editorial that addresses alot of the concerns raised in your post and posts like it.

Give it a read if you like over at:

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Young

SO good. So, so good.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergoldie

This speaks to my theory that it only takes a handful of black people doing anything before the MAN gets nervous. Especially if it's young blacks who are by definition supposed to all be locked up, or somewhere playing basketball and smoking crack. SMH @ them being surprised young knee-grows are on the web in significant numbers and are (gasp) actually savvy enough to start trending topics. Don't we have a black president? What part did I miss?

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPlain Rap Medski

asterisk rant = game/set/match.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdevessel

Courtney said:

"... Then I saw the response from Instant Vintage and it did what I so desperately wanted to do but was unable because I lack Adobe Photoshop. Those birds...those birds gave me life."

Hey, I don't have Photoshop either. There's free software called GIMP that does virtually the same thing. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRavan_A

You are a genius. Slate might have gotten Twitteisha's colors wrong, but the author successfully conveyed his own. History is written by the victors and government/ major media/ multi-national corporations / the military is still run by white men.
Wish I were black so I could follow you on Twitter.
: )

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Duggan

"And you tell them to lighten up, because it's only Twitter, but they go on a lengthy rant about limited role of African Americans in the media and how if it appears that a lot of us are wasting time tweeting #ghettobabynames the white folks will read it and make racist assumptions about us based on those tweets and reinstate slavery?"

Bwahaahaa LMBO! I love your take on these things!

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNLSmith

Ok. Two things that are still bugging me about all this:

1. Am I being an agryblack if I'm all "why hasn't Gawker picked up on this mess?" I've seen at _least_ 3 other memes that haven't spread this fast that they totally picked up on. I mean, some of those BrownTwitterBirds don't play. It's because we're black isn't it?????? Oh no, wait, it's because it was started by non-scary blacks. Blacks are only interesting when we're scary. I forgot.

2. While Farhad weighed in on my blog post yesterday and like, 6 people had things to say back, he's not actually engaging.

Actually, I don't know why I'm really surprised by 1 or 2. I take it all back.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
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