From the Editor

Drescher: Black Twitter emerges as force

jdrescher@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

See the News & Observer's Meredith Clark talk about the cultural resonance of Black Twitter. Video by John Drescher, jdrescher@newsobserver.com

THE NEWS & OBSERVER

When The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post wanted to explain Black Twitter to their readers, they turned to The News & Observer’s Meredith Clark.

Clark recently joined us as the editor of The North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News, two of our community papers. She’s completing her doctorate in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her dissertation is about Black Twitter, the name given to African-Americans, mostly young, who use Twitter, the micro-blogging network that limits users to 140 characters per tweet.

Young African-Americans have flocked to Twitter because it’s easy to use on smart phones – the primary Internet device for many blacks. Twitter’s users are more racially diverse than Internet users in the U.S.

Black Twitter reflects a community that has long existed offline. But as Soraya Nadia McDonald of The Washington Post wrote this week, that community now is in the open for anyone to observe – or engage with.

“Black Twitter is part cultural force, cudgel, entertainment and refuge,” McDonald wrote. “It is its own society within Twitter, replete with inside jokes, slang and rules, centered on the interests of young blacks online – almost a quarter of all black Internet users are on Twitter.”

Its own language

McDonald interviewed Clark about the shorthand, coded language often used. “You’re going to see this language that’s used, that’s common to all, that you don’t have to code-switch and explain to outsiders,” Clark said. In the Journal, Clark explained why young blacks use Twitter and that some use it in place of texting.

Clark, 34, received her undergraduate degree from Florida A&M and then worked at the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper before attending graduate school. Twitter was created in 2006. Clark first tweeted in 2008. (Her Twitter handle is @meredithclark. Mine is @john_drescher. Watch video of Clark at nando.com/video.)

Clark says at times there’s consensus on Black Twitter. But every day, she said, there’s spirited disagreement among various factions. “There’s a lot of divisive talk between men and women,” Clark told me. Men complain women are too forceful, the feminists too loud.

Among the leading black voices are @drgoddess, who once hosted a panel called “The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter,” and @brokeymcpoverty, who regularly live-tweets ABC’s “Scandal,” which has a cult following within Black Twitter.

Emerging trends

Clark sees two trends emerging for Black Twitter. She sees African-Americans using Twitter not just to report and comment but to push for action. For example, the Post reported about Juror B37 in the Trayvon Martin case. That juror planned to write her account of the George Zimmerman trial. An African-American woman named Genie Lauren (@moreandagain) urged her followers to contact the book agent and not let the juror profit from Martin’s slaying. Lauren provided the agent’s contact information. Within hours, the book deal was off.

The other trend Clark sees is businesses, politicians and others trying to reach a black audience through Twitter. Clark said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (@corybooker), a Democrat from New Jersey, has been effective in using Twitter to reach constituents, especially when he was mayor of Newark. “If you’re paying attention,” Clark said, “it’s a great resource to have and a free resource to use.”

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com.

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