From the moment Elon Musk took the reins at social media platform Twitter, chaos has seemed to envelop the site. But even on Nov. 17, when the farewell tweets were flying and users feared the site would implode, Black Twitter was still Black Twittering.
And that is exactly how Black Twitter does, says Arionne Nettles, lecturer and director of audio journalism programming at Northwestern University.
“It’s always really scary when something you love is on the brink of the end, but in Black Twitter fashion, you can’t get too upset because it just means that the jokes are going to come even harder, right? That is literally what Black Twitter is for,” Nettles said. “There is no such thing as a tragedy that cannot be turned and flipped into comedy and I think that’s really reflective of just kind of what we do culturally, is that we get through stuff with the joke — and Thursday night we had a lot of jokes.”
Exavier Pope, lawyer, ESPN Las Vegas contributor and host of SuitUP News, echoed Nettles’ assessment.
“I think that that’s the nature of Black Twitter, it’s being able to have the barbecue, so to speak, out loud – because guess what? We’re on social media, people still can’t get the jokes but us, so it’s been really great to share that with the world and impact culture with it,” Pope said. “To see that go away potentially, but us turn into something funny, that’s how we do it.”
But Black Twitter is not just jokes, says CityCast Chicago host Jacoby Cochran.
“I have looked at Twitter for collective mourning, where we have had to watch our brothers and sisters gunned down in the middle of the street,” Cochran said. “I have also watched Twitter, especially Black Twitter, take something like World War III, the potential of nuclear war, and make hilarious jokes using SpongeBob memes and so, it’s the range for me.”
And that’s why for him, one of the most memorable Black Twitter experiences he has had was on Jan. 6, 2021.
“While so many people I think was wringing their hands and like, ‘our country is not like this, this is not us, who are we?’ I felt like I was collectively standing on my porch with a bunch of my friends, my family members, my cousins, just pointing across the street like, ‘oh my God, you see these people?’” Cochran said. “It was this moment where it was like, look how much time you’ve invested into denigrating, oppressing us and look at this force that you've created underneath all of that. I just felt like we had a good time laughing at that as so many people kind of lost their minds in either one of two directions, complete ignorance or naiveté.”
Nettles says it’s also a cultural touchstone she turns to frequently in her work.
“There are literally times where I’m working on research and I can’t recall the article that I’m talking about but I remember the Twitter discussion around it,” Nettles said. “So I go back to Twitter and I look it up … and that’s just such a unique thing because we just have these conversations here and it’s really an archive, history, a library of all this information.”
Pope streams his show “SuitUP” on Twitter, a place he says helped him launch his content and has worked well for him since.
“It’s a place that I’ve been able to say things and that go viral pretty frequently, and [have] articles written about things I’ve tweeted about and so I worked turning that into SuitUP News,” Pope said. “And so that’s the way that I’ve used this platform and be able to touch, and inform, and inspire and also entertain people as well, especially talking about carrot cake. It’s become a thing for the last two and a half years. I hate it. It’s disgusting. It should be objective in society but people seem to get into it and we keep talking about it every day.”
So if Twitter does vanish – where do former Black Twitter users go?
“So many other social media platforms have tried to replicate the virality of Twitter… but none of them quite captured this feeling like you’re in the public square talking to Cicero at any moment. I’m not sure if anybody is going to be able to quite dominate this particular space in the same way,” Cochran said. “We’ll find each other, we’ve always done it … we’ve evolved and we figured it out.”