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Black Twitter convo discusses impact of social media on black activism

With an image from a Black Lives Matter protest frozen on the screen behind her, Dr. Meredith Clark, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas, took the podium Tuesday evening to discuss a concept called Black Twitter.

Black Twitter, an online community of African-American culture, ranges from current events to social activism, connecting users through the use of hashtags like #blacklivesmatter, #paulasbestdishes and #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

Clark, a self-declared “Ph.D. in Twitter,” discussed her research— which used techniques ranging from ethnographic studies to grounded-theory analysis— and how it demonstrates the effect’s application to modern social media usage on black social movements.

Following her introduction, she took time to discuss many of the reasons that Black Twitter is often painted in a negative light by mass media.

“Media content takes elements of culture, magnifies them, frames them and feeds them back to the audience,” Clark said. “There is a tendency to put blacks at a racially-based disadvantage in many everyday situations.”

Quoting author and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Clark also stressed the importance of taking all individual stories into account to craft an accurate narrative. In other words, Clark said, it is increasingly important that observers do not “pigeonhole a group or a movement to a single story— we are all complex individuals with complex stories.”

After closing out the presentation on her research, she sat with Black Student Association President Justin Lang to take questions from the audience.

Senior Cameron Bryant asked how to challenge others to not lose focus on activism issues from day to day.

“I believe there is a false dichotomy between giving your energy to important social issues and spending time on social media discussing other things that you enjoy talking about,” Clark said. “Someone who attends a Black Lives Matter protest in the morning may wish to tweet about an episode of Scandal that same night— at the end of the day, they are still doing the work.”

Others, such as sophomore Mele Girma, were concerned with the movements themselves, and the way in which other minorities who do not necessarily share the black identity engage in a nuanced online community.

“I’m so glad you asked this,” Clark said. “People always ask me— can someone who is not black participate in Black Twitter? Of course. Although the role that an individual will play may vary depending on their own background, we all have strengths and weaknesses and we can always utilize our strengths to support the movements that we believe in.”

This article was written by Danny Zydel. Photo courtesy of Belmont’s Black Student Association.

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