Black Twitter – A Powerful Force, a Marginalized Movement

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

On any given evening, Black Twitter will be dominating the top 10 trending topics in the U.S. But if this constitutes such a strong, galvanizing movement, then why is it so marginalized?

Black Twitter can move mountains.

On the night of June 28, Twitter erupted. The occasion was the 2015 BET Awards, which attracted 12 million TV viewers—less than half of the 25.3 million who tuned in to this year’s Grammys. Yet, at any given moment, eight of the top ten trending hashtags in the United States that evening were related to the BETs, and since Twitter boasts an estimated 65 million users in the U.S., it’s safe to say Black Twitter is a force to be reckoned with.

Yes, sometimes hyperbole is necessary. In the past three years, Twitter has become a necessary platform for dissent, discussion, breaking news and, yes,trends. And in the case of what has become colloquially known as “Black Twitter,” all of those things have gelled to create an online culture of black intellectuals, trendsetters, and talking heads giving voice to many of the issues that 20 years ago would’ve remained far away from the mainstream radar. The murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, the reality of street harassment, the racial crisis brewing in the Dominican Republic—these are all stories that became of major importance because Black Twitter made sure the world understood what was happening. And with popular hashtags like #YouOKSis and #BringBackOurGirls becoming recognized all over the world, it’s impossible to ignore how Black Twitter has been able to affect change and raise awareness.

There is also a growing criticism that Black Twitter is just the social media version of a hyper-reactionary watchdog group; a crew of “race-baiters” who wait to pounce on public figures who say the wrong thing, or who lobby to get college kids fired from part-time jobs because they tweeted something racist. But most Twitter backlashes are born of valid criticism, and in Black Twitter, black people have a platform to air grievances and demand action—things that white people in America oftentimes take for granted because they are readily available. When you don’t have the money or the legacy to sway public perception or buy political influence, the next best thing is having a platform to reach people via word of mouth. And Black Twitter has been doing that now for at least three years.

So is Black Twitter real? Very much so. But it’s interesting to see how the mainstream and “traditional” media spaces have responded to this relatively new, quite active and dynamic voice.

Mainstream media platforms mine Black Twitter for content and ideas. Popular hashtags become fixtures on the nightly news and Twitter is breaking news stories hours and sometimes days before CNN or Fox News. And as it pertains to advertising, Madison Avenue also appears to be paying close attention to the memes and hashtags generated by the culture; with Taco Bell and IHOP“on fleek” and Jimmy Johns calling customers“bae.” Black slang being used to sell crap isn’t anything new, but in the digital space, why aren’t these brands effectively recruiting those who have the strongest grasp on the demographics they’re marketing to?

Ron Campbell is the owner and CEO of Campbell Communications, and he spoke to NBC News in February about both the lack of black hires among ad industry giants and the dearth of black companies landing major clients. His Campbell Communications is a member of Multicultural Marketing Resources, a web directory for advertisers to connect with minorities in the advertising industry. “People who create the advertising are primarily not black,” he says. “In some cases, they say they feel some inclusion is going to help their sales. It’s not that they think these groups aren’t worthwhile consumers, part of it is that they just don’t know how to create an insightful strategy.”

Black Twitter’s capacity to influence may be recognized, but it’s clear that media giants still prefer to pontificate on it from a distance without investing in that influence directly.

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Source: The Daily Beast | Stereo Williams

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