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August 13th, 2010

Does it matter how Black people use Twitter?

by Amani Channel
@fmanjoo #blacktag

I started using Twitter on April 20, 2007. At the time, Twitter was hardly mainstream. There were a few media professionals on the site, but its popularity was reserved for mostly techies and early adopters.

When I started using it, I posted infrequently and didn’t give much rhyme or reason to my Tweets. A few months later I found myself freelancing for a network called HDNews. The 2008 Hurricane season proved to be a valuable lesson in the power of Twitter.

As I covered Hurricane Ike, TS Faye, Hurricane Gustav, and TS Hanna, I often tweeted from the field using hashtags. It kind of happened by accident. I noticed that others were using #Ike for example, and followed suit. Honestly, I didn’t even know Twitter would aggregate tweets based on the #sign, but what I did notice was that people by the dozens would follow me when I used a hashtag with my storm tweets. By the end of the storm season, I had amassed an additional 2000 followers or so.

Though I no longer work in news, I’ve continued to tweet, and enjoy being able to share a variety of content including mobile videos, photos, and of course text and links. I try to share content that relates to technology, news, and multimedia. It’s no secret that one of the benefits of Twitter is being able to develop your personal brand, and it holds a strong place in my social media strategy.

Sure, I’m on Twitter regularly, but I’ve also automated some of my tweets through www.twitterfeed.com. Whenever I update this blog, twitterfeed will send out a tweet. The same goes for when I upload a new video to my blip.tv account. I’ve also added a few outside sites like BlackWeb2.0 because I generally like the content, and find that the posts are often re-tweeted.

You may wonder why I’m sharing all of this? Several online discussions have centered on how Black people use Twitter. More specifically, an article on the Slate written by Farhad Manjoo that focuses on the hashtags used by (some) Black Twitter users.

The prevalence of these tags has long puzzled nonblack observers and sparked lots of sometimes uncomfortable questions about “how black people use Twitter.”

Why would anyone be uncomfortable with how someone else uses Twitter, or any other social network for that matter?

People use social media to communicate. Some people use it for general conversation, others use it to market and promote, while others use it to have entertaining conversations around hashtags.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t pay attention to some of the trending topics that center on silly conversations or situations, but I’m not going to hate either.

Perhaps some nonblacks are upset or confused because their topics aren’t trending. Is that what makes some uncomfortable?

Wayne Sutton ends his post on the topic with the following thought:

…just because you see a few African-Americans creating various trending hashtags on Twitter don’t assume that’s how all “black” people use twitter.”

Anjuan at BlackWeb2.0 was also moved to write about the issue:

These articles also give young black people the impression that they have to adhere to stereotypes in order for their tweets to be interesting. This reinforces the posting of tweets that are written in order to get attention instead of to provide substance.

The Slate article does a great job of presenting the, “Why do they talk, walk, or dress like that?” perspective, but that is shallow and narrow minded.

It hardly tells the full story of how Blacks use Twitter. I know there are plenty of intelligent and thoughtful conversations going on in the Black Digirati.

Look at my Twitter stream and Web content Farhad, and perhaps you’ll see that your “angle” is a very short sighted perspective.

At least try to give more than one view… Of course we know there’s no objectivity in blogging, journalism, or whatever you call what you do.

  • http://www.AnjuanSimmons.com Anjuan Simmons

    This is a well written article, Amani. As people of color continue to respond to the Slate article on the internet, I hope that news outlets will realize that a serious study of the use of new media by African Americans is needed.

  • amanichannel

    Thanks Anjuan. That really got under my skin. I'm still mad as a matter of fact. That cat has no credibility in my book. That isn't research.

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