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From Paula Deen To Baltimore Unrest: Exploring The Role Of Black Twitter


While the violent drama played out on the streets of Baltimore this past week, an equally passionate debate played online in a social media community that’s become known as Black Twitter.

Meredith Clark, an assistant journalism professor at the University of North Texas, has researched Black Twitter. She talked about the phenomenon in this week’s Friday Conversation.  

Interview Highlights: Meredith Clark...

…On the difference between Black Twitter and other communities that have developed on social media:

“The difference lies primarily in the use of culturally resonant language; using phrases and imagery that people already know from their cultural background, so for us, that’s references to The Cosby Show, A Different World, rap lyrics, the food that we eat and the traditions that we were raised with.”

Credit Krystina Martinez / KERA News
Meredith Clark is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton.

  …On the rise of Black Twitter:

“I first started to pay attention to the fact that it was a phenomenon in 2010. There were people who had been there for years talking to each other without necessarily being studied…Twitter just became the medium that they used to have these conversations."

…On Black Twitter’s effect on the unrest in Baltimore:

“We have the opportunity to hear multiple narratives. We’re not ultimately relying on news media to tell us what’s happening on the street. 

…As we were watching some of the protest footage just before the curfew went into effect, we saw a young man – Joseph Kent – get arrested as a Humvee rolled by. What Twitter and what Black Twitter allows those individuals on the ground to do and those watching at home is to demand accountability.”

…On why Black Twitter has not changed the conversation about civil rights:

“I think back to the Turner Commission report of 1967. President Lyndon B. Johnson asked a group of individuals to figure out what happened with the summer riots in places like L.A. and Newark – these urban centers where black people were concentrated. They’re poor, they needed jobs, and you saw the reaction to unrest in their cities.

At that time, the question was, ‘what happened? Why did it happen? And ‘how can we keep it from happening again?’ If you look around the United States in the last year, we’re right back where we were in 1967.” 

Meredith Clark is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. If she only had to follow one person on Twitter, she says it would be The Atlantic writer and editor Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.