You Can Tweet Like This, Or You Can Tweet Like That, Or You Can Tweet Like Us.

Farhad Manjoo writes about how black people use Twitter, and, more specifically, the prevalence of black-created hashtags on the site:

Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It’s this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.

The Slate piece, despite its cringe-inducing title, is not a bad bit of analysis of a subgroup of black people who use Twitter. It’s undeniable that there are generally one or two top trending topics (especially late at night) being primarily used by black people. The question Manjoo seems to be trying to answer is why black people dominate the conversation on Twitter.

One of the people Manjoo interviews, Brandon Meeder, seems to be on to something. Meeder proposes that the tightly interconnected black communities on Twitter send certain hashtags spiraling upward. Speaking anecdotally, I’ve seen this happen many times. Although there are several very popular black twitterers that I choose not to follow, the same can’t be said for other black twitterers I do follow. Hashtags, some very tempting to join in on, creep into my Twitter timeline regularly.

Merits of the piece aside, what troubled me on first read was that Manjoo quoted only men — four popular male twitterers served as the voice of blacks in the piece. While they all had valuable insights to offer, it’s frustrating to read yet another piece about black people that only quotes black men. I e-mailed Manjoo about this, and he acknowledged that as a flaw in the piece, but I’m looking forward to a day when I don’t have to call someone out on something so simple.

But what bothers this black twitterer more than any of that is this: that the story was clearly written with a befuddled and bemused white audience in mind. This notion exists that the ways of black folks are so very mysterious that it takes a brown man — Manjoo basically serves as a bridge — to explain them to whites. But one of the explanations is pretty simple: black people on Twitter, just as they do in real life, maintain tight-knit communities where they trade jokes, bicker, and play with each other. The same could be said about any other community using the site. I’ve seen many a journalist-oriented hashtag show up in my timeline.

To address the question about the ‘dominance’ of black twitterers, I believe the answer lies somewhere in this combination of pretty mundane facts: Poor and working class people are more likely to access the internet through mobile devices than they are through expensive computers with expensive high speed internet plans, and 25 percent of black people live in poverty. Young people are also more likely to access the internet through mobile devices. The median age of black people in the U.S. is 31.8, compared to 38.2 for whites.

Young black people on Twitter are right on trend. That is, when a large percentage of a racial group is young and doesn’t have a lot of money, they’re going to dominate a free service that ties in perfectly with their most common mode of communication. Manjoo concludes: “Given that these hashtags are occurring in a subgroup of black people online, it is probably a mistake to take them as representative of anything larger about black culture.”

He could have left the “probably” out.

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7 comments to You Can Tweet Like This, Or You Can Tweet Like That, Or You Can Tweet Like Us.

  • But what bothers this black twitterer more than any of that is this: that the story was clearly written with a befuddled and bemused white audience in mind. This notion exists that the ways of black folks are so very mysterious that it takes a brown man — Manjoo basically serves as a bridge — to explain them to whites.

    That’s exactly what sort of irked me about the article. It’s that kind of “National Geographic” tone about what Teh Blacks do in various habitats. I also think articles like this highlight how crucial it is to have more diversity within the media gatekeeper ranks. I may be off base, but something tells me if there were more editors of color and women editors at Slate, this story might have been more in depth? At least Manjoo might have been asked “So, what’s your point?” Or, “Why did you only interview black men when your story is about black people?” And he would have had to come up with something else.

    I also think an editor of color would have vetoed that damned “brown bird with a fitted hat” illustration (seriously, Slate?) that accompanied the article. But then the awesome #browntwitterbird meme would never have happened. Hmmm.

  • -k-

    What you and Danielle said. The headline was so egregious in its “[for a] befuddled and bemused white audience”-ness that it was hard for me to concentrate on the article itself.

    (Thank you for carrying the blog lately, btw– this is the Summer of Shani on PB.)

  • I still say that on the net no one knows you’re a Saint Bernard.

    More than just “blacktags” trend (what a shitty term); so do politags (about politics), so do celebtags (celebrity stuff), so do those infernal tvtags (the ones about inane tv shows) and sportags (about sports). The whole world cup thing had multiple tags trending, even among US tweeple.

    The fact that most of the so-called “blacktags” are started by a young, urban, mostly black demographic probably has more to do with young and urban than black, IMO.

    But what do I know? I’m a spayed housecat.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Most of the ultra-popular, non-celebrity black Twitterers I know are females. Seems weird to me he’d only talk to dudes.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Danielle,
    Not only does the brown bird have a fitted hat, it’s Aretha’s Inauguration hat.

  • I get uneasy feelings any time race comes up on Slate (podcasts included). Their commentary/discussion about Shirley Sherrod, Ozzie Guillen and SB 1070 never sits quite well with me. Their whiteness just comes out so clear. For a rather mainstream newsmag, it’s way too white.

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