Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a provocatively titled piece on Slate.com, “How Black People Use Twitter”. The piece goes on to show that it is possible to discuss such a topic in an informative way without delving into stereotype. Manjoo has noticed, like many Twitter users surely have, that each day’s trending topics include some hashtags with a distinctly African-American feel. Recent examples include #ifsantawasblack and #ghettobabynames. Casual and formal study has shown that Twitter is very popular with young African Americans, and through a very interconnected network of followers, trending topics can move very fast through the African-American Twitterverse.
Manjoo speaks with Baratunde Thurston, Online Editor of TheOnion.com, who presented the popular Power Point at this year’s South by Southwest Conference, “How to be Black Online”. His theory is that Twitter represents an opportunity for the continuation of an old African-American tradition, “the dozens”, or call and response. He also notes that, whereas many casual users of Twitter follow many people who don’t follow them back (celebrities like Ashton Kutcher or Conan O’Brien), many young African-American Twitter users reciprocally follow everyone who follows them. This allows for the viral spread of call and response topics (i.e., “Yo Momma’s So Dumb…”). Finally, it is also noted that, since it is not required to reveal one’s ethnic status on Twitter, for the purposes of the study, individuals with black avatars are considered to be Black Twitter users.
Although this blog is called Reach Hispanic, this study of how one minority group uses social media is interesting for a variety of reasons. For one thing, as stated above, it proves that you can discuss how a minority group uses a social network differently from others in an intelligent way, without tiptoeing gingerly around the question. Secondly, it presents an interesting case study of how different memes can spread virally. Topics that are interesting, funny and relevant to people’s lives will be spread organically by people who care about them. Such as when the topic is, “If Santa was Black”.