New Digital Tool Shows What’s Trending on “Black Twitter”

The revolution in 140 characters?

Because of accessibility and user-friendliness via cell phone, Twitter has become the social media platform of choice among young people, and those who would otherwise have difficulty accessing the Internet. That brings us to the lazy (and complicated) shorthand “Black Twitter,” a term used to describe a segment of Twitter users who are black and participate in black culture online—though it should be said (and it should be obvious) that not all black people use Twitter in the same way.

Studies have shown that African Americans account for about 25 percent of Twitter users, close to twice their representation in the U.S. population; Latinos are the second most-active on Twitter, at about 14 percent.

But Black Twitter continues to capture the interest of mainstream media, largely because those outside of black culture are getting a closer view of that culture in real time. South by Southwest  2012 had a panel on “The Bombastic Brilliance of ‘Black Twitter.’” Slate, Gawker, The Huffington Post and others have also tried to crystallize an understanding of Black Twitter, black culture and, by extension, black cool.

“At the risk of getting randomly harshed on by the Internet, I cannot keep quiet about my obsession with Late Night Black People Twitter, an obsession I know some of you other white people share, because it is awesome,” wrote Choire Sicha in 2009 in a piece titled “What Were Black People Talking About on Twitter Last Night?”

With its new content aggregator, The Chatterati, has now made it easy to take a peek and see. The Root was founded in 2008 as an online source of news and commentary from an African-American perspective and is owned by The Washington Post. The Chatterati operates on algorithms designed to provide up-to-the-minute tweets and trending topics among Twitter’s black users, who have been hand-picked for database inclusion by The Root staff.



“We are pretty proud and we’re excited about it,” says Donna Byrd, publisher for The Root, who said that the tool provides a great way to source content and look for interesting conversations and the day’s top stories. (The Chatterati also includes a social news blog, The Grapevine, and The Root plans to launch its e-newsletter in the coming weeks.)

I’m excited about the potential of The Chatterati. It could be amazing, for instance, as a social justice tool. I’m also really interested to see its utility during election season, and to see how writers and journalists might use it. The Chatterati is fun, but could also push conversations forward. And by aggregating black culture in a digital space, The Chatterati is doing something that hasn’t been done before. In his famed spoken-word performance, African-American poet, author and musician Gil Scott-Heron once said, “The revolution will not be televised.” Perhaps instead it will come in 140 characters at a time.