The imminent acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk raises questions about the future of the platform and its cultural impact.
Black Twitter is easy to find if you know what you’re looking for.
“If you’re unfamiliar with Black Twitter, this probably isn’t for you,” said Stephanie Alston, CEO of Black Girl Group.
Now some are wondering what will happen next, with billionaire Elon Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy Twitter still in the works.
As a platform, Black Twitter is an open forum while also being a private chat. People use it as a source of affirmation, history lessons and pleas for justice.
“We saw #MuteRKelly, which was the movement surrounding the muting of R&B singer R. Kelly,” Alston said. “We’ve seen Black Lives Matter, bringing together black voices and even those who call themselves allies in the black community.”
It has been a social justice mouthpiece for the lack of diversity in everything from local June 19 celebrations to the Oscars.
“My whole professional life has changed since that first tweet seven years ago,” said April Reign, co-founder of She Will Rise.
That tweet was #OscarsSoWhite, sent by Reign, a former lawyer, in 2015.
“I was watching the Oscar nominations on one of the morning TV shows, and it hit me this category after category and all the acting nominations, there were no people of color nominated, because what we call 2015 means the movies of 2014,” Reign mentioned.
So she started the future viral tweet and a movement for change.
“It was in 2016 that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, led by then President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, decided to launch an initiative to double the number of people of color and the number of women in the ranks by 2020, and in fact they did,” Reign said.
But Black Twitter’s sociopolitical influence didn’t stop there.
A 2020 survey from Pew Research found that 60% of black people say social media is an important way to get involved in political or social issues.
“Every time George Floyd was tragically murdered and it went viral online, one thing a lot of companies have done is they said they’re with us, and so what what Black Twitter did?” said Alston. “They held these people accountable.”
When it comes to politics, a study by Nia Atkins, a researcher at Columbia University, shows that political candidates who saw a slight increase in black sentiment on Twitter quickly saw a 12-point increase in polls among Black.
While Twitter is a haven for black communication, it can also be a haven for hate.
“The biggest problem a lot of people have isn’t so much the free speech; it’s the hate speech part,” Alston said. “There’s been so many people who have had issues with, you know, white supremacists coming in and saying racist things. I mean, we saw the Capitol riots that happened because you were able to mobilizing on platforms like Twitter. These are the issues that scare Black Twitter.”
A 2018 study by Amnesty International found that black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets.
And Tesla Inc., of which Musk is CEO, is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing after receiving hundreds of complaints alleging segregation and discrimination.
According to other complaints from former employees, workers were regularly called out by the n-word and greeted by management “Welcome to the plantation”.
In his filing with the SEC, Musk says he believes in Twitter’s potential as a platform for free speech. Now, many black influencers on Twitter are taking a wait-and-see approach, while using their platforms to express themselves.
“I feel a responsibility to amplify those who are more marginalized than me, and so I can have the conversations that I can learn in real time,” Reign said.
“At the end of the day, I think we need some level of free speech just because that’s how Black Twitter was able to mobilize,” Alston said. “If we just say, you know what, we’re going to censor everything, I think that makes it a little bit harder for our communities to be able to come together. If something happens and Twitter turns into a place that, like, we don’t feel comfortable, I’m fully confident that Black Twitter will find another place to mobilize, and together they’ll figure out how to make something else more popular, even cooler.