SXSW 2012: The Power Of 'Black Twitter'
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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Twitter birds like the one shown above began appearing in Twitter profiles across the Web (Image: @bfnh)

Kimberly C. Ellis joined twitter in 2009 but she didn’t understand its influence in the black community until the G-20 economic summit was held in her hometown of Pittsburgh. On Twitter, Ellis, also known in the social media space as Dr. Goddess, decided to follow the G-20 hashtag, which provided a stream of tweets from locals regarding heads of government, finance ministers, and central bank governors who descended upon her town.

She decided to go there and saw police corralling the crowd, people getting arrested and broken glass on the ground. “I started to tweet about the confusion, the fear and the mayhem,” said Ellis, a political activist, columnist, author, playwright, and entertainer, with a Ph.D. in American studies.  Even though mainstream media outlets were present, she realized she became a newsfeed for reporters as the situation unfolded. “Why were my tweets becoming a primary source,” she asked herself.

That experience inspired her to embrace Twitter and her appreciation for the microblogging platform grew. She quickly learned that she could use it to promote her personal brand through her company, Dr. Goddess Arts, Education and Management.

In her SXSW panel discussion, “The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter,” Ellis used this story to prove a point: “Black Twitter,” or black users on the platform, don’t solely use the social media site for entertainment.

Slate ruffled her feathers in 2010 when the magazine penned an article about how black people use Twitter, but instead of looking at the stats holistically, focused on a subset of black culture, which consisted of mostly teens and comedians “playing the dozens” by using twitter hashtags. Slate referenced hashtags like #Youknowyoureblackif.

Ellis was offended. In her mind, the oversimplified analysis would result in furthering stereotypes associated with African Americans.  “What I discovered was the mischaracterization and wack deconstruction of ‘Black Twitter.’ It reinforced what people think about black people.”

The tweets the Slate article examined were “a slice of a small representation of who black people are,” said Ellis. What the article missed out on was the celebration of being a black nerd on “Black Twitter,” explained Ellis in her charismatic theater-styled presentation. The article skipped out on analyzing other organized twitter chats like #blacklitchat, #hiphoped, #smallbizchat, #Gradchat, and #PHDchat–all of which also include a large “Black Twitter” following.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.