Twitter turns 10 years old on Monday, marking a momentous milestone for a platform that has forever changed how we communicate in the 21st century.
The social network has impacted all kinds of people, but it's been especially significant for black users. This group, collectively known as Black Twitter, has used the platform to drive visibility to discussions about black life and culture, led by those who know it best.
In 140 characters, Black Twitter has helped reaffirm and redefine the black experience, as well as revolutionize the ways in which black people around the world can connect and collaborate.
So what exactly is Black Twitter?
“Black twitter is a loose network of Twitter users who talk about African-American-related issues,” Mark Luckie, Twitter’s former manager of journalism and news, told The Huffington Post. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be made up of black people, but it centers around the content [black people] talk about in real life.”
Luckie, who left the social network to become the head of journalism and media at Reddit, launched a platform called Today In Black Twitter. He accurately described the community as users with varied backgrounds and perspectives who find strength, and beauty, in the diversity that often goes unacknowledged in mainstream culture.
According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 27 percent of Black Internet users are on Twitter, the highest percentage among any other racial or ethnic group in the survey. The figure speaks to the impact black users have had on the growth of Twitter, as well as the issues explored on the social network.
“Black users tweet more frequently and log on on more often. Black Twitter makes up a lot of core users,” Luckie said. “Twitter is public, so not only is Black Twitter having a conversation among themselves, they’re also having a conversation in the public eye.”
Black Twitter's transparency is largely what helps make it so significant, Luckie said. Thanks to the movement's power, its participants have better access to celebrities and public figures than most. They're also able to fuel discussions around national and local news events in a very public way. As a result, tweets and moments often birth hashtags that transform into rallying cries for online campaigns. It's something Black Twitter is passionate about, and the group is immensely creative at producing these thought-provoking moments.
“The power of Black Twitter is that anything can be a trending topic, and it doesn’t have to be from somebody of influence or someone who has a lot of followers," Luckie said.
The tremendous growth of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign on the platform last year is a prime example of how Twitter offered an outlet for amplifying crucial issues of racial injustice and police violence in America. Hashtags like #ICantBreathe, #HandsUpDontShoot and #Ferguson all helped raise awareness around police killings of black men and women in America. This animated map shows just how much these tweets lit up the Internet around the world between Nov. 24, 2014 (the day of the Michael Brown decision) and Dec. 4, 2014 (the day after the Eric Garner decision).
Twitter buzzed with activity the day a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved in Brown's case, with nearly 3.5 million tweets associated with Black Lives Matter. “Ferguson,” which is the Missouri city where Brown was killed, later became the most popular keyword on Twitter between June 2014 and May 2015. The term was mentioned in more than 21 million tweets during that time.
These tweets -- along with others that highlighted issues around the world like #BringBackOurGirls and #RhodesMustFall -- helped spark global movements based on issues affecting black lives everywhere. In many ways, these calls to action went well beyond Twitter -- they were transformed into real action that helped bring about meaningful change in both America and abroad.
“Black Twitter has enabled black people around the world. It’s empowered people to speak their mind by using the Internet to create action,” Luckie said. “It’s amazing that a single hashtag can galvanize not just people in the United States, but people all around the world. There’s been a great evolution in terms of the movements that have happened in Black Twitter.”
Luckie says many of these online movements are often started by a single person who is unrelenting in his or her voice and wants to draw attention to a particular cause or issue. Over time, he said, these movements have grown to include specific demands that are shared and further amplified online, in an effort to help bring about potential solutions.
April Reign can attest to that. As the creator of #OscarsSoWhite, Reign created a viral hashtag that users everywhere adopted, using it to call out the dismal state of diversity at the Oscars. Reign, who first used the hashtag to mock the lack of inclusion at the award show (as shown in the tweet below), said she never anticipated the hashtag would take on a life of it’s own.
However, Reign can attribute much of the hashtag's success to Black Twitter, which helped fuel a lot of the discussion around diversity at the Oscars and Hollywood at large. In January, Hollywood proved the calls for inclusion didn’t fall on deaf ears when Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pledged to diversify its membership by 2020.
“It’s a good first step, it’s the most significant change they’ve made in decades -- if not ever,” Reign previously told HuffPost in response to the Academy's proposed plan for change. “I’m gratified by that and will keep pushing.”
Beyond online social justice movements, Black Twitter has also had a significant impact on the framing and success of TV shows and entertainment platforms. From Shonda Rhimes “TGIT” marathon nights to the rise of “Empire,” the reactions of online audiences like Black Twitter can strongly impact the ratings for many popular TV shows.
“Black people have been driving culture in this country for decades, and so Black Twitter is accelerating that at a faster and instant rate,” Luckie said.
Award shows and live events -- like the recent airing of the Grammy’s or “The Wiz Live!” -- are prime examples of how online discussions can fuel engagement. But beware, Luckie said, because “if you put out bullshit, you will get dragged.”
Perhaps the best part of Black Twitter is that it is a never-ending well of creativity. Many users create spot-on or intriguing commentary that highlights the best of black excellency and the beauty of black minds.
Some users share their work through many of the memes, reactions, hashtags and videos that go viral. Others effectively share content through platforms like Vine and Periscope, both of which were acquired by Twitter. These two platforms in particular have allowed users to tell their own stories in ways like no other.
“When you think about the Ferguson protests, you had people tweeting Vine videos, and it was allowing them to be their own reporters,” Luckie said. “It’s moving beyond the 140 characters and giving people a more immersive experience about issues Black Twitter is raising.”
Twitter itself has even gotten in on the fun. Blackbirds is an account controlled by Twitter employees who seek to share diverse perspectives across the site. The account publishes honest, and at times hilarious, conversations, offering yet another outlet for marginalized voices across the world.
“Black people love ourselves,” Luckie said. “We’re cool and we want to celebrate that.”
And since Monday marks Twitter’s 10th birthday, we want to help celebrate that, too! Happy Birthday, tweeps.