Black Twitter is a force. It’s also not particularly well understood by those who aren’t a part of it. The term is used to describe a large network of black Twitter users and their loosely coordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics due to the network’s size, interconnectedness, and unique activity.
This was the network largely responsible for focusing the nation’s attention to the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. Witnesses to Brown’s killing broke the news via social media. Within moments, their accounts of what happened spread through the Twittersphere with the hashtags #Ferguson and #MikeBrown.
And then there are the hashtag campaigns. #YouOKSis raises awareness for street harassment, #IAmJada calls for solidarity for victims of sexual assault, #BringBackOurGirls forces attention to the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, and #BlackLivesMatter gives voice to the ongoing movement to reform police practices.
Black Twitter is also the subject of academic inquiry. Researchers at the University of Southern California are currently engaged in one study to answer the question, “What is Black Twitter?” Late last year, Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, completed research with the goal of establishing a theoretical framework for exploring Black Twitter.
I spoke with Clark to discuss Black Twitter, its composition, activities, and impact. A lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation follows.