Co-written by Sarena Chism
I was given the opportunity to attend the Film and Interactive portion of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX, a few weeks ago. If you aren’t too familiar with SXSW, let me give you a little insight. SXSW is an interactive, music, and film festival held annually in Austin, TX. I in turn attended a few very interesting panels. One of the most memorable panels I attended was one entitled, “ When Black Twitter Attacks”. This panel was brought to SXSW by MVMT 50 (formerly Blacks in Tech) and included speakers such as, Anslem Rocque of Moguldom Media Group, David Dennis of Moguldom Media Group, Jamilah Lemieux of Ebony, and Janee Bolden of Bossip.com. This panel discussed the “dark side” of black twitter (no pun intended) and the social responsibly the many members of black twitter have.
If you aren’t completely knowledgeable about black twitter, I’ll give you a bit of insight. Black Twitter is a group of people that focuses on issues and interests of the black community via twitter. Despite its name, you don’t have to be black to be a member of black twitter, its more of a cultural identity than a racial one. Black twitter provides many people with a sense of familiarity and a way for people with similar cultural backgrounds to connect with each other. Although black twitter is praised for being a medium for an often silenced and under-represented group of people to get their voice heard, many would argue that black twitter can be a bit of a bully. Although, I’m not surprised that the mainstream media only chooses to focus on the negative, I find that they choose to ignore what black twitter has done for the community.
As stated before, most of the time when black twitter gains publicity for something, its for something negative. This doesn’t mean that black twitter are negative all the time, this just means that the media chooses to solely focus on the negative topics. For example, the incident when Gabby Douglas was participating in the 2012 Olympics in London. The outbreak of negative comments about her choice of hairstyle was scrutinized by a handful of members of “ Black Twitter” ; however, the members of Black twitter were not the only group of twitter users to comment on the topic, yet it was magnified in the media that members of the black community were bashing another person of color when their ultimate focus should have been pointed towards her gymnastic ability and not her hair. During the panel discussion, Jamilah Lemieux stated that when she pulled the list of the negative comments made against Douglas by members of the Black twitter community she could only find a few.This goes to show that, it is true that negative news spreads faster than positive fortunes any day. There have been numerous occurrences where Black Twitter has brought about change in a positive manner, but it has rarely been credited for its ability to bring light to a negative situation that was committed against members in the black community. For instance, Black twitter played a major impact in the push to have George Zimmerman arrested for the death of Trayvon Martin.
The power of the voice on Black twitter has been compared to the power of the many voices of Blacks during the Civil Rights movement. Comments were made during the panel discussion that Black Twitter can give an ideology to its users that by simply retweeting a message or using a hashtag that they have marched in the Million Man March via the internet. The two are very hard to compare because as someone in our generation that was not present to witness the strength and togetherness of people during the Civil Rights movement we can not fully grasp the power of the marches and protests, but I also find it difficult for someone in an older generation to discredit the abilities of Black twitter to invoke necessary changes.
There is economical value in every tweet, retweet, and hashtag. A tweet is seven times more impactful than a TV commercial. Tweets also have the ability to be retweeted a hundred times over; following a hashtag on twitter is easier than googling every article ever posted about any particular subject. Black twitter also has the ability to be represented as one voice, making strong decisions on what we as a community and as a culture for what we will or will not accepted. But the biggest mistake made by viewers outside of the Black twitter community is that because we can establish a concise decision on our stand against injustices does not govern that all members are the same. That is stereotyping via social media.
If you want my opinion, I don’t see black twitter going away anytime soon. But, I think its worth mentioning that black twitter does not represent black people as a whole. We must remember that everyone that it involved in black twitter is not black and every black person is not involved in black twitter. Black people can not be generalized into one group via social media. Much like black people, black twitter is complex and diverse can often can not be summed up into one category.