When it comes to demographic influence over a website, black people have taken over Twitter by storm. Statistics show we’re more likely to use Twitter than whites, Latinos or Asians. And if you scroll through anyone’s Twitter feed, chances are you’ll find at least one popular post from a black user.
There are a lot of ideas about what Black Twitter is, but the community has been an observed phenomenon for nearly a decade now, and today it represents a complex constellation of communities, ideologies and identities. There are a variety of reasons why black people today turn to Twitter to communicate.
It enables black communities to form
When Twitter first took off, it had something relatively unique about it that most other major social media platforms didn’t have. You didn’t have to follow someone to find or see their content, which means anyone’s short, easily shareable snippet of conversation could end up on your feed, and if you related to it, you could easily search for more.
The other thing that made Twitter unique was that it was best suited to being used on a mobile phone, pretty much from its inception. Since 2000, statistics have shown that black families have statistically been less likely to have a family computer with internet access at home, so when relatively cheap smartphones became accessible, many black internet users found mobile-friendly sites like Twitter easier to use than sites like Facebook, whose mobile apps were clunkier.
That meant many black users ended up on Twitter looking for community and interaction. The combination of Twitter’s ease of use on mobile phones and ability to share content with people who aren’t following you meant it was particularly easy for black users to form communities, communities that have developed and grown over the years.
It brings black issues to the forefront
Of all the benefits of Black Twitter that draw users in and make it a valuable community tool, none is so important as that of elevating black voices in politics. American history has historically relegated black news and black lives to the sidelines, prioritizing white American history, news and culture as representative of the nation as a whole. Black Twitter has time and time again provided a medium for black conversations to be brought to the forefront of national debate.
On Twitter, black voices do not automatically get delegated to alternative newspapers distributed only to black readers. They get shared with all audiences, including white audiences, white politicians and white celebrities, who find it difficult to openly ignore black conversations in a medium heavily dominated by black users.
As a result, hashtags related to black lives, like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen, #BlackLivesMatter, #OscarsSoWhite, #IfIDieInPoliceCustody and #BlackOnCampus gain national attention from major American newspapers and audiences. Not only read by black audiences empathizing with one another, they’re also shared with white audiences who may be exposed to conversations, concepts and realities they’ve never been forced to reckon with before.
It gives black users the ability to collaborate
Black communities can often feel isolated or ignored by city, state or national politics at large. Because black communities rarely make up the absolute majority in any particular municipality across the United States, political power may be nonexistent. Individual black people often feel like pawns in a system designed to ignore them as much as possible. Enter Black Twitter, where collaboration and national — or even, international — aid can come to anyone who gets the right audience.
Just this past week, #PermitPatty became a topic of national conversation when a white woman named Alison Ettel was named and shamed for trying to call the police on a young black girl, who was simply selling water on a hot summer day, for “making too much noise,” despite the fact that there were no ordinances or laws that would justify calling the police, and despite the fact that her own company, TreatWell Health, is for all intents and purposes, technically unlicensed and illegal.
Ettel ended up on national news crying about how she was bullied after numerous companies dropped her products in response to the media firestorm.
In other words: thanks to the power of social media and Black Twitter, there were actual consequences for her actions, something that would never have been enacted by the powers that be.
Black Twitter provides black communities with a voice and support, for an ability to have a conversation in the public eye and with public influence, something that black people often feel lacking in their day to day lives. It’s no wonder black audiences turn to the microblogging website in drove, posting messages in 280-character bites and developing community-based hashtags to keep the conversation going.