Near the end In 2009, in the millennia of a decade that saw the first black man elected to the US presidency, Ashley Weatherspoon hunted virality in a young app called Twitter. As a personal assistant to singer Adrienne Bailon, a former member of the pop groups 3LW and Cheetah Girls, Weatherspoon often worked on social media strategies. For weeks, she and Bailon had been testing hashtags on both feeds to see what would come in contact with fans. A mild success came with variations on #UKnowUrBoyfriendsCheatingWhen. Later, on a road trip around Manhattan, they started playing with #UKnowUrFromNewYorkWhen. “We started lubricating it,”
It was the first Sunday in September, exactly at 16:25, when Weatherspoon logged on to Twitter and wrote: “#uknowurblackwhen you cancel plans when it rains.” Hashtag spread like wildfire. Within two hours, 1.2 percent of all Twitter correspondence revolved around Weatherspoon’s hashtag, as Black users riffed at everything from car rims to high tees. It was viral hit she was looking for – and a confirmation that a rich substance was threaded together across the platform. Here, in all its melanated glory, was Black Twitter.
More than a decade later, Black Twitter has become the most dynamic subset, not only of Twitter, but of the wider social internet. Able to create, shape and mix popular culture at the speed of light, it remains the incubator for almost every meme (Crying Jordan, This you?), Hashtag (#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #OscarsSoWhite, #YouOKSis) and social justice (Me Too, Black Lives Matter). ) worth knowing about. There is both news and analysis, conversations and answers, judges and jury – a comedy showcase, therapy session and family facilities all in one. Black Twitter is a multiverse, at the same time an archive and an all-seeing lens into the future. As Weatherspoon puts it: “Our experience is universal. Our experience is great. Our experience is relevant. ”
Although Twitter was launched exactly 15 years ago today, with the goal of changing how – and how quickly – people communicate online, the ingenious use of the platform by Black users can be traced, in a way, much further back in time. . In the 1970s, when the computer revolution was in its infancy, Amiri Baraka, the founder of the Black Arts Movement, published an essay called “Technology & Ethos.” “How do you communicate with the masses of black people?” he asked. “What is our spirit, what will it project? What machines will it produce? What will they achieve? “
For Black users today, Twitter is Baraka’s prophetic machine: speech and community, power and empowerment. To use his words, it has become a space “to imagine – to think – to construct – to energize !!!” What follows is the first official chronicle of how it all came together wonderfully. Like all stories, it is incomplete. But it’s a beginning. An overview. Think of it as a kind of overview of blackness – how it moves and thrives online, how it creates, how it communicates – told through the eyes of those who lived it.
Part I: Coming Together, 2008–2012
As early online forums as BlackVoices, Melanet and NetNoir fizzled in the mid-2000s, sites that catered to black interests were scarce. BlackPlanet and MySpace failed to fill the void, and Facebook did not quite capture the essence of real-time communication. Users were looking for the next one.
Kozza Babumba, Social Manager at Genius: Before 2007, we had never had a conversation about almost anything. As a society, we did not all talk about what it was like when we sang the national anthem. Or how it was when OJ drove in the white Bronco. We only saw it on TV.