Black Twitter was a force to be reckoned with in 2014. We saw the calling out and subsequent firing of people who posted racist tweets, as well as meaningful calls to action in which social activists created viral campaigns that brought attention to issues and incidents that captured global headlines. First lady Michelle Obama joined in on a hashtag movement, and the nation listened to an indictment of black Twitter during the grand jury press conference about Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo. Don’t get us wrong—black Twitter still had jokes—but more important, in 2014 it proved itself an entity that should be taken seriously.
When Boko Haram—an Islamist insurgency group based in Nigeria—abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from their Chibok boarding school in April, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was born. Posters used the tag as a sounding board to express remorse, outrage and camaraderie with the victims’ families and communities. It also put pressure on Nigerian officials and the international community to work together to find the missing schoolgirls. Michelle Obama even joined in the movement, posting a photo in which she held a white board with the hashtag prominently displayed.
It’s no surprise that the offspring of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith turned out to be so doggone introspective and esoteric. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Jaden and sister Willow Smith waxed effortlessly about concepts like prana energy, quantum physics and the “melancholiness of the ocean.” His Twitter timeline reads like that, too: In it he asks a boatload of rhetorical questions to uncover life’s deeper meanings. People hilariously turned Jaden’s entire M.O. completely on its head by coming up with hilarious Jaden-esque questions alongside the hashtag #TweetLikeJadenSmith.
Kim Kardashian tried and failed to break the Internet by posing nude for Paper magazine, but at that point the world had already seen her naked far too many times for anyone to be terribly shocked or taken aback. Several weeks later, many argued that it was Solange Knowles who successfully broke the Internet when she and her wedding guests appeared in artsy photos at Knowles’ wedding to beau Alan Ferguson.
After Lifetime butchered its Aaliyah biopic by casting actors who looked nothing like the real-life individuals who worked with and loved the singer, people came up with their own horrible casting decisions to mock the movie. The results were priceless and hilarious.
During a live broadcast in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury found that police Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown, CNN anchor Don Lemon began describing the scene and added to his description of mayhem that “obviously, there is the smell of marijuana in the air.”
We still don’t know what that had to do with the Ferguson protests, but it left folks flabbergasted, and represented the latest botch in a string of incidents this year that had the collective black Twitter giving Lemon’s reporting acumen the mean side eye.
It was Thanksgiving week, the biggest shopping season of the year, when the nation learned that Darren Wilson would not be brought up on charges for fatally shooting Michael Brown. So it didn’t take long for a social media campaign to emerge that urged black consumers to boycott major retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to demonstrate the buying power that African Americans have—and can wield—to push back against racial injustice.
NBA superstar LeBron James is arguably the greatest player to grace the court, and easily the most dramatic. His supertheatrical reaction whenever a defender even lightly brushes against his towering 6-foot-6, 250-pound, stonelike frame is to damn near fall out. Thus, “LeBroning” was born.
After unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson by a white police officer, several eyewitnesses came forward and described how he had his hands in the air, seemingly surrendering, as Darren Wilson continued shooting. Protesters around the nation had a moment of silence to honor the tragedy and bring attention to the excessive police force that is used in black and Hispanic communities.
When a New York City grand jury refused to indict the police officer who administered the fatal choke hold to Eric Garner, lots of white people got on Twitter in response to black Twitter’s outrage and started to tattle on themselves. They described all of the times they committed crimes and, well, got away with it or got a slap on the wrist from law enforcement. It highlighted the argument, from those who got away with the crime, that cops tend to be more lenient with white people.
A local news station in Minneapolis reported that Mayor Betsy Hodges and an African-American campaign volunteer were throwing up gang signs when they took a picture together. In reality, they were just pointing at each other in one of those moments that get caught on film. People began tweeting photos of other public figures pointing at people to demonstrate how silly and racially motivated the “scandal” was.
When Republican congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten got on Facebook and critiqued the way Malia and Sasha Obama were dressed and acting during a Thanksgiving turkey “pardoning” event at the White House, she got an earful from people who found her entire diatribe to be disrespectful and inappropriate. Lauten apologized—and resigned—soon after.
After George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and then two separate grand juries failed to indict police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner respectively, African Americans began to feel as if their lives were not valued or worth the investigations, indictments and criminal trials that white lives would have garnered.
Those were the words that Eric Garner spoke as he was fatally choked by a New York City cop. When a grand jury did not indict the officer, the hashtag gained momentum and came to represent the symbolic stranglehold routinely placed on African-American lives.
After Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, it seemed as if some news organizations preferred to use photos of Brown that reinforced the idea that he was some sort of menacing thug who instigated the incident leading to his death. Instead of using his graduation photo or family photos, they opted for ones that showed Brown in a more casual, informal state.
When people caught wind of that tactic, they juxtaposed photos of themselves in which they looked like “thugs,” alongside their professional shots, and asked news outlets which photo would be used in a news report #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.
Jada, a 16-year-old teenager from Houston, found out that she was sexually assaulted—on Twitter. Her attackers posted photos of the incident on the social media network, and that is the exact same forum where Jada chose to fight back. She crafted the hashtag #IAmJada as a way to take a stand against the shame and humiliation that her attackers tried to levy on her.
It brought legions of sexual assault victims and advocates together who were happy to shed light on the issue of sexual abuse and how victims can speak out and fight back.
When the New York City “street harassment” video—you know the one—went viral, a huge argument erupted on the Internet about whether all forms of catcalling should be considered harassment: How are guys supposed to court women that they find attractive? It’s not fair because if the guy is good-looking, girls like it. It should be considered assault only when physical contact is made. It was these types of questions and arguments that caused a bit of a firestorm around the topic.
Social activist Feminista Jones was most concerned about whether the women at the center of the issue were OK, and so she created the hashtag #YouOkSis to encourage people to look after one another during these sorts of incidents—whether they happen on the street or the harassment occurs online.
It’s the social media equivalent of a nosy aunt (played by memes of Kermit the Frog) who is, in fact, all up in your business, commenting on your choice of mate, your bad hair decisions or your messy shoe game. Hilarious images of Kermit sipping his tea, ever so innocently, while pointing out the contradictions and holes in social media stories weren’t really meant to be judgmental—OK, maybe they were, just a little. But more important, they tried to encourage people to think through their decisions a bit more.