USC’s Black Twitter Study Draws Criticism

The University of Southern California isn’t the first to study “Black Twitter,” and it won’t be the last.


Let’s discuss the phenomenon that is Black Twitter. Yes, I’ve capitalized the “b” in black, because it deserves the distinction as a proper noun, especially since there’s currently a study on it being conducted by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

According to the study, here’s what the researchers are doing:

Developing a multi-method approach to studying public discourse on Twitter that explores both macro and micro-scale activity simultaneously in order to draw out particularly active, engaged “neighborhoods” within the larger population. Among the many different ways that audiences incorporate Twitter into their media ecologies, “live-tweeting” is one of the most promising for researchers. “Live-tweeting” refers to an open-ended discussion among casual viewers, producers, critics, fans, and anti-fans alike that unfolds in response to television programming, in connection with real-time viewing. From sports events to awards shows to original content, this sort of real-time activity offers a unique opportunity for researchers to listen in on live commentary from thousands of viewers at once.

It’s no surprise that Black Twitter is a hot commodity when it comes to market research and advertising. According to recent Pew research, 18 percent of Twitter’s U.S. users are black, and it’s this number that has marketers striving to figure out how to make a profit out of it.

Earlier Wednesday, when word got around about the Black Twitter study, most people noticed that the people associated with the study on the site were three white men. That definitely didn’t sit well with those on social media. Many questioned why three white men were involved in a project solely focused on the interactions of black people on Twitter. Then the criticism, jokes and hashtags started rolling in, because, you know, that’s what Black Twitter does, and rightly so.

But that’s when the face of the project changed and Dayna Chatman, a black woman, was added to the project’s page. In a twist of irony, Chatman took to her own Twitter account to set the record straight about the project and to state that she pitched the idea as part of her research assistantship.