Twitter sits atop the social media pile as the unofficial king of short-form communication with the political, social and semantic discussions and distinct personalities behind the tweets proving to be much more engaging than what you might find on your average group text or Facebook post. Much of that can be attributed to the sheer number of people tweeting daily; at the public filing of its IPO in October 2013, Twitter reported 100 million daily active users. Of the users adding their 140 characters to the conversation, those contributing to the phenomenon affectionately known as Black Twitter are the decisive winners in the game of social media thrones. The Pew Research Center has released a report that speaks to the origins and the estimated reach of Black Twitter by outlining statistical data collected on social media usage and engagement amongst young, college educated and higher-income social media consumers of African descent.
The Pew Research Center report found that roughly 72 percent of blacks have a home broadband connection, a smartphone, or both. About 86 percent of black Internet users ages 18-29 have home broadband access, about 88 percent are college graduates and about 91 percent earn at least $75,000 annually.
Pew said blacks also tend to use Twitter more often, noting that 22 percent of black Internet users access Twitter at high levels compared with 16 percent of whites. Overall, 73 percent of black Internet users and 72 percent of white Internet users use Twitter.
It is worth noting that the results of the study (as reported by the Associated Press) seem to be based upon a general ignorance of the buying habits, abilities and resources of black internet users, educated or not. While it may seem at first glance that young black people are not as tech savvy or plugged-in as their white counterparts, the data suggests otherwise. Many of the most popular African-American users on Twitter have made no bones about their longstanding ties to the matrix. Most of them – including those in their 30’s and 40’s – began in elementary school.
yeah… AOL ebony chat. before #thatsite. before myspace. i’ve been on these interwebs a long time, b.
— surly murdock (@dopegirlfresh) November 29, 2012
The aging rap groups beefing, breaking up and reuniting on Twitter timelines may also be an interesting, if slightly tangential, point to consider. Twitter aggregates and expands conversation, more or less one sentence at a time. The platform has also managed to aggregate entire online communities just as efficiently, creating a central meeting place for a host of pre-existing groups from message boards, chat rooms, and more informal networks of internet friends. The end result is a tidal wave of inside jokes, clever memes, pop culture debates, guerrilla reporting and socio-political discussions–led by Black Twitter. The movement gestated and beta tested right here on the Okayplayer.com message boards has finally grown up and dedicated itself to everything from engaging academia and dictating musical trends to critiquing culture, questioning the status quo, finding missing children and getting people fired.
— FWMJ (@fwmj) June 24, 2013
Black Twitter is also responsible for bringing the your-mama-joke conversational dynamic of black barbershops and hair salons to main street America; Black Twitter users lead by Lenee Voss aka @dopegirlfresh lashed out against TMZ’s suggestion that the Boston Bomber‘s actions were somehow influenced by his consumption of hip-hop, by mocking their headlines and practices under the hashtag #TMZReports. Black Twitter’s cool table is full of kids who cut their teeth on the Okayplayer.com message boards, including Tracy Clayton aka @brokeymcpoverty – a writer whose pioneering black history month memes, hearty wit and literary might helped land her a job at Buzzfeed. She occupies a position of influence that has found her dedicated in-part to the task of placing a spotlight on the virtual community at its most basic and brilliant; Clayton recently provided a very timely summary of the year in tweets with The 21 Biggest #BlackTwitter Moments Of 2013. Those moments include The Evisceration of Paula Deen, Miley Cyrus: #TwerkGate 2013, Scandal Takes Over Twitter, The Schooling of Don Lemon, The Passing of Nelson Mandela and baby photos of Kimye‘s daughter North West.
Perhaps more important is the most recent coup marked by the firing of PR executive Justine Sacco following her disparaging pre-flight tweet about AIDS and Africans during a family trip to South Africa; Sacco was met at the airport by a press junket and an army of hecklers looking for answers. What she may have failed to realize is how many people in Africa – and other parts of the developing world – are using mobile social media as a primary means of communication and connection to the the rest of the globe; according to a 2010 article from the UN‘s Africa Renewal blog, the continent boasted over 100 million internet users toward the end of 2010. Still worse, however, is the retribution exacted by Black Twitter – a volunteer legion of individuals ever-ready to kick ass, take names, Google addresses, send out drop-squads and suffer no fools. Those initiatives often spill off, metastasizing on Reddit and other platforms that make the true reach of these conversations pretty massive. At this juncture, one thing has become abundantly clear; this, my friends, is much bigger than hip-hop. Black Twitter is the youthful voice of black America, covering everything from the ratchet to the righteous with immediacy and aplomb and taking absolutely no tea for the fever. While this is news to some, it isn’t entirely new. You might know that if you had been visiting The Boards.