While Black Twitter has long been referred to as a digital space to share cultural critique, break celebrity news, kick shit, and engage in “friendly” debate, one CU Boulder researcher claims that the hub serves an even greater purpose, one with historical roots.
Shamika Klassen, a doctoral student at Colorado University Boulder conducted a study between April and May of 2020, analyzing over 75,000 tweets and interviewing 18 Black Twitter users. Klassen compares the findings to serving a similar purpose as the Green Book. Formally published in 1936 as The Negro Motorist Green Book by Black postal worker Victor Green, the book provided a guide for Black travelers to avoid discrimination and physical harm as they journeyed from town to town.
Alongside her CU colleagues, Carnegie Mellon peers and Harvard associates, Klassen discovered that the platform wasn’t being utilized solely to share memes, but also to request safe suggestions for lodging, places to eat without being side eyed, and which professionals to book in which areas.
“What was most interesting to me was the many different ways that Black Twitter was giving life to people,” Klassen said in an interview. “There are benefits, there’s empowerment, there were also people warning about racism, and it was so interesting to see all the different ways people were being fed in their spirit by Black Twitter. It’s more than just funny hot takes or getting entertained by the Verzuz battles happening, but a rich, deep, meaningful community of people.”
Among those interviewed was Orville Rawlins, a West Indian resident of Denver who says he never makes a move without consulting Black Twitter first.
“People will make jokes on Twitter that these are the restaurants in the area, but this one has spices and they know how to use them,” Rawlins said. “That might seem minor to other people, but spices are the things that make the food, spices are what counts for us. Whenever I see a review of some small restaurant, hole in the wall, a food truck with my followers, I put more worth in that.”
The study also points out the fact that many Black Twitter users consult the platform for updates on protests and activity around other social justice initiatives.
“One interviewee was in school and watching Black Twitter as the protests were happening during the week, so when they were out of school, they knew where to go, what to bring, how to stay safe — because they had been watching up to that point,” Klassen said. “People were able to get this live information about the protests happening and then be able to engage in it themselves offline.”
You can find Klassen’s full report here.