Talking With André Brock About Black Twitter’s Fate on X
Posted August 15, 2023
Don’t count Black Twitter out just yet.
The online community that has given Black Americans an unmediated, and often powerful, voice in the day’s news and politics for more than a decade has been declared dead in more than one recent headline, the victim of numerous changes by the platform’s new owner, Elon Musk.
Then came the “Alabama boat brawl.”
“It only really made it to the national papers because of how Black Twitter really went hard on it and made all these memes and songs and videos and skits about it,” says André Brock, associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and an expert on Black Twitter. “By the end of the weekend, many people were saying, ‘Black Twitter will never die. I’m not leaving here ever.’”
“And so, it’s a really interesting moment to be hearing people realizing once again that this is a life-giving space, even though it has all these problems.”
Musk has made innumerable changes that have prompted some longtime users to scale back or abandon use of the platform.
Like many others disillusioned with the platform’s sudden changes, glitches, and a resurgence of hate content fueled by account restorations and scaled-back moderation policies, some Black Twitter users also are exploring other sites, Brock says.
From Mastodon to Meta’s Threads app to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s BlueSky, some are trying out new sites. But, Brock says, many are finding the newcomers lack the same community feel as Black Twitter or that they may have worse problems than X.
“These other places are trying hard. But I haven’t yet identified anything compelling enough to get me to check it regularly,” Brock said.
Most Black Twitter Users Aren’t Leaving
Instead, like the neighborly residents of a run-down apartment building nervously wondering what their new building owner is up to, Brock says most Black Twitter users feel this is their community, and you’re not going to get rid of them that easily.
“You know there are going to be rough times ahead, but you’re not going to move. This is where your kids go to school. This is where your social networks are. So you prepare for rough times, which is a hallmark of Black life in the United States.”
“It’s not that I’m being oppressed any more than usual,” Brock said, “It’s just that I know that the landlord is not going to take care of the air conditioning or the pest control.”
“But I’m not pessimistic or even fatalistic. Optimism isn’t quite the right word. I’m resolute,” he said.
A ‘Digital Diaspora’
In his recent MSNBC commentary on the situation, Brock called the movement of some prominent Black Twitter users a “digital diaspora” that’s forced users, including himself, to rebuild their information networks and once again look to multiple platforms for trusted information.
But he says that diaspora is, for now at least, “a trickle, not a flood.”
More will leave, he’s sure. But, he says, it will be years, at least until after the next U.S. presidential election, before the power of Black Twitter crumbles.
“I’m so angry at all the ‘Black Twitter’s Dying’ headlines because it’s still vital. It’s just not as strong as it once was.”
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Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts