A Black academic explains Black Twitter, what it is and what it isn’t

Meredith Clark
Meredith Clark

A feature story in The Atlantic magazine tackles the growing influence of how Blacks use Twitter for communications, engagement and enacting change. Entitled “The Truth About Black Twitter,” writer Donovan Ramsey talks with journalism professor Meredith Clark (pictured), at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, about her study of the social media phenomenon.
Black Twitter is a force. It’s also not particularly well understood by those who aren’t a part of it. The term is used to describe a large network of black Twitter users and their loosely coordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics due to the network’s size, interconnectedness, and unique activity.
This was the network largely responsible for focusing the nation’s attention to the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. Witnesses to Brown’s killing broke the news via social media. Within moments, their accounts of what happened spread through the Twittersphere with the hashtags #Ferguson and #MikeBrown.
And then there are the hashtag campaigns. #YouOKSis raises awareness for street harassment, #IAmJada calls for solidarity for victims of sexual assault, #BringBackOurGirls forces attention to the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, and #BlackLivesMatter gives voice to the ongoing movement to reform police practices.
Donovan Ramsey
Donovan Ramsey

Black Twitter has also used its power to launch campaigns that criticize the incidents of racial tone deafness that are all too common across media. #EpicBraidLevels skewered Marie Claire’s bizarre praise for Kendall Jenner’s cornrows. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown illustrated the pejorative selection of images used in news stories about black victims of police shootings. Don Lemon, one of cable news’ most controversial broadcasters, has also been called out by Black Twitter for his routinely offensive #DonLemonLogic.
Black Twitter is also the subject of academic inquiry. Researchers at the University of Southern California are currently engaged in one study to answer the question, “What is Black Twitter?” Late last year, Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, completed research with the goal of establishing a theoretical framework for exploring Black Twitter.
“I define Black Twitter as a temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues and talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference,” said Clark.
“I break Black Twitter down into three levels of connection,” Clark added, “Personal community, and that reflects the people that you are connected with in some other dimension other than Twitter… The second level I find is thematic notes, and that’s where individuals specifically tweet together about certain topics, so they keep returning to this subject matter. And those thematic notes could be anything from television shows, to ideologies, topics of religion.”
“And then that third level of connection,” explains Clark, “where we see a lot of conversation about these networks and how they’re linked, is when those personal communities and the thematic notes kind of intersect around a specific topic.”
Click here to read more of the Atlantic story.

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