Mainstream media has been forced to acknowledge the power of Black Twitter
Some have dismissed it as an occasional phenomenon, but “Black Twitter” has firmly established itself as a news source to be recognized, even if not fully respected by the mainstream media.
Black Twitter made its impact almost three years ago when Blacks created hashtags “giving voice” to outrage regarding the shootings of Black men such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the Nigerian girls’ abduction and other news and issues affecting Blacks.
North Texas Assistant Professor Meredith Clark’s 2014 dissertation on Black Twitter won an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication award. “Black Twitter daily discusses real-world problems that mainstream media is either oblivious to or outright ignoring,” explained the professor in a July, 2015 Poynter.org article.
“Mainstream media is still set in their mind on” covering news and events that affect Black people, adds Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds.
April Reign created #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2015 after Black actors were shut out of Oscar nominations, and it went viral. A former lawyer for 20 years, Reign is managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com and NUTribe magazine editor at large, and has her own web site, www.reignofapril.com. Her Twitter page was named one of the top 15 on Black Twitter.
“The first time we heard about Michael Brown shot and killed was on Black Twitter,” says Reign in a MSR phone interview. “There were over a thousand tweets about Mike Brown before any mainstream media news outlet picked up the story. The power of Black Twitter is that we as people of color are not going to stand around and let [the mainstream media] say anything racist.
“It is an aggregation of people who appreciate and respect the Black experience. You don’t have to be Black to be part of Black Twitter,” explains Reign. She adds that being a “member” is voluntary “and it depends on who you follow and interact [with]…and based on the information you provide. It’s an experience you create for yourself.”
However, although mainstream media seemingly is now recognizing Black Twitter, Reign and others are concerned that they aren’t always asked to comment on the very tweets they produce. “If you are using our information, our hashtags, we should not only be acknowledged but be compensated for it,” said Reign. “They have names. They are people who should be recognized.”
Reign also bristled at the notion that Black Twitter is “a crew of race-baiters…a hyper-reactionary watchdog group,” as noted in Steven Williams’ published article in the Daily Beast last year. The piece talked about Black Twitter’s influence but also the “growing criticism” about it. She and others were featured in the article. “It’s unfortunate and it happens quite a bit,” responded Reign.
Last year the Los Angeles Times assigned a Black reporter to cover Black Twitter as a regular beat. “I’m happy that they hired a person of color who may be able to understand the nuances in ways that a non-person of color wouldn’t. At least, overall, Black Twitter is being acknowledged as a news source, as opposed [to] how the media painted us as an angry Black mob,” noted Reign.
She and others see Black Twitter as a descendant of the Black press. When asked has Black Twitter replaced Black newspapers’ influence, especially among the present generation, Reign says that the two complement each other. “We don’t have as many [Black newspaper] outlets as we once did. Black Twitter is something to fill that void. I would love to see the Black press take more advantage of the power of Black Twitter.”
Black Twitter “definitely is a news and information service,” Reign contends. “I don’t watch broadcast news anymore. The news I get, I get from Twitter, and it is more accurate and faster than anything I can watch on television. Twitter is just faster. It is something we have now that gives us the news from a Black perspective.”
Finally, Black Twitter is not going anywhere — it can be about “something silly, and an hour later you may be talking about a shooting,” concluded Reign. “We run the gamut of all issues that affect Black people worldwide.”
Information from The Daily Beast and Poynter.org was used in this article.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.