Let’s discuss the phenomenon that is Black Twitter. Yes, I’ve capitalized the “b” in black, because it deserves the distinction as a proper noun, especially since there’s currently a study on it being conducted by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.
According to the study, here’s what the researchers are doing:
Developing a multi-method approach to studying public discourse on Twitter that explores both macro and micro-scale activity simultaneously in order to draw out particularly active, engaged “neighborhoods” within the larger population. Among the many different ways that audiences incorporate Twitter into their media ecologies, “live-tweeting” is one of the most promising for researchers. “Live-tweeting” refers to an open-ended discussion among casual viewers, producers, critics, fans, and anti-fans alike that unfolds in response to television programming, in connection with real-time viewing. From sports events to awards shows to original content, this sort of real-time activity offers a unique opportunity for researchers to listen in on live commentary from thousands of viewers at once.
It’s no surprise that Black Twitter is a hot commodity when it comes to market research and advertising. According to recent Pew research, 18 percent of Twitter’s U.S. users are black, and it’s this number that has marketers striving to figure out how to make a profit out of it.
Earlier Wednesday, when word got around about the Black Twitter study, most people noticed that the people associated with the study on the site were three white men. That definitely didn’t sit well with those on social media. Many questioned why three white men were involved in a project solely focused on the interactions of black people on Twitter. Then the criticism, jokes and hashtags started rolling in, because, you know, that’s what Black Twitter does, and rightly so.
But that’s when the face of the project changed and Dayna Chatman, a black woman, was added to the project’s page. In a twist of irony, Chatman took to her own Twitter account to set the record straight about the project and to state that she pitched the idea as part of her research assistantship.
Chatman’s colleague also tweeted about his reasons for working on the project:
Here’s the thing about Black Twitter: It’s more than hashtags, retweets and jokes. Sure, all of those run rampant, but in the grand scheme of things, Black Twitter is a microcosm of society as a whole. Black Twitter is being studied not only by USC but also by companies like Nielsen.
On a nightly basis, Nielsen and other marketing companies sit back and learn what Black Twitter users are watching, purchasing and buying. Black Twitter is Money Twitter. Every retweet of a TV show, every mention of a new product, is building revenue for hundreds of companies. And that’s just the commercial aspect of Black Twitter.
If it wasn’t for Black Twitter, would the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Ezell Ford and Eric Garner have gained the attention of the nation? Black Twitter consists of activists, educators and those people making a difference in the world.
Black Twitter is not all Scandal or Love & Hip Hop tweets and Kermit the Frog memes. Black Twitter is filled with comics, foot soldiers, feminists, mothers, fathers and even a handful of white people. Of course people want to study a population of people who have buying power and influence and who may be funny as s—t. But while they’re doing the studying, they’re also making money and even occasionally taking credit for other people’s work and ingenuity.
This USC study is one of several that have happened and will happen. But wouldn’t it be great if Black Twitter actually benefited more from these studies? Black Twitter doesn’t need a study to tell it something it already knows. What Black Twitter needs is to figure out how to leverage its buying power and influence to benefit its members, not only large corporations.