#BlackTwitter: Something Like A Phenomenon – And Not To Be Ignored

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The hashtag #paulasbestdishes is still one of the most memorable.

When news broke that chef Paula Deen — famous for her loveable Southern drawl and her buttery, “down home” cooking — admitted to using racial slurs, Black Twitter spoke out in one of the most powerful ways it knows how: through comedy and sarcasm. The results were varied. Many tweets brought laughter to the point of tears.

It seems that, particularly in heated, racially-charged moments, Twitter has become a place to commiserate and bond in the face of shared pain. Though humorous at times, the tweets are far more than just “funny.” Typically, they are social and/political commentaries cleverly embedded within short, humorous quip. And it is a trend that continues, more recently, with the Don Lemon “stop and frisk” controversy.  Lemon was quoted as asking “[t]he question is, would you rather be politically correct or safe and alive?”, while discussing New York’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy on television. The comments spawned internet backlash and the mocking hashtag #DonLemonOn was born soon after.

Certainly, mass Black Twitter hashtagging is cathartic and an opportunity for community among those who participate and share one another’s tweets. And we’ve seen the effect of positive hashtagging. The Twitter clamor of #Scandal-related tweets is so deafening that it is considered one of the most “tweetable” shows on network TV – a distinction that helped catapult the show to bonafide smash status.

But ask Russell Simmons about the negative ramifications. This August, outrage on Black Twitter over the Harriet Tubman “sex tape” elicited a public statement from Russell Simmons and prompted the removal of the video from his website.

Would Paula Deen have lost her Food Network show without the massive Black Twitter movement designed to publicly “stone” her for her offenses? Paula Deen was a major ratings winner for the network; any decision to remove her would have been approached with caution, consideration and great debate. The public outcry, including that of Black Twitter, certainly must have tipped the scales. Tweets en masse send a loud message that the public is not going to easily forget or forgive the incident. A network would be wise to react swiftly and with the appropriate level of distancing.

Daniella Gibbs Leger of The Huffington Post feels that these negative repercussions send a clear and unmistakable message: “1. Don’t mess with Black Twitter because it will come for you. 2. If you’re about to post a really offensive joke, take 10 minutes and really think about it. 3. There are some really funny and clever people out there on Twitter. And 4. See number 1.”

More and more, it has been noted that social media has become a repository for latent negative energy. People attack one another with direct insults, accusations, and threats; celebs often endure the lion’s share of this, but everyday folk are also thrown into the ring. The hashtags produced by Black Twitter appear to be distinguishable from the general maelstrom in one significant way — a majority of the community holds a shared belief that the target (whoever he or she may be) deserves its ire and wrath. And as stated above, there’s also a political or social commentary at the heart of these mini-“movements.”

Whether it really differs greatly from the common, day-to-day mudslinging may be questionable to some. What is clear though is that Black Twitter is a powerful social media force. May all networks, lawmakers and personalities take heed.

Karen J. Francis is a freelance writer and media attorney living in New York City.  Follow her on Twitter @karebelle.

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