Black Twitter Project

There has been a lot of talk in the last few days regarding the study on Black Twitter. Our website inaccurately represented the study and its authors by failing to credit the study lead. We apologize to project lead Dayna Chatman and the community at large, and we have corrected this oversight.

Annenberg Innovation Lab

September 5, 2014


Black Twitter Project

Lead researchers: Dayna Chatman, Prof. François Bar, Kevin Driscoll, Alex Leavitt
with support from USC students and faculty members of the research group

This research project is conducted in partnership with the Media Impact Project, a global hub for collecting, developing and distributing the smartest approaches and best tools for measuring the impact of media.

The purpose of this page is to provide information about a research project related to Black Twitter being conducted by students and faculty at the University of Southern California.

This work began with a deceptively simple question: "Black Twitter clearly exists. But what is Black Twitter?"

Black Americans use Twitter in greater numbers than other racial groups; however, this presence alone does not affirm the existence of Black Twitter. Some individuals on Twitter consider themselves a part of Black Twitter, while some do not. The openness of Twitter as a platform means that others who do not identify racially as Black or African American may also contribute to Black Twitter. Thus, we have tentatively defined Black Twitter as a discursive phenomenon in which individuals and groups use Twitter as a counterpublic space to engage in everyday talk about cultural, social, and political events that are important to Black communities both nationally and globally. This everyday talk is not merely mundane; it can also be political, generate action, and perform the cultural tasks of solidifying, nuancing, or even challenging perspectives about what it means to be Black in America and beyond.  

In short, Black Twitter is vast, dynamic, innovative, and complex. It is beyond the reach of any one research project or team to attempt to understand its full implications. Our project has focused instead more narrowly on the relationship between popular culture and civic participation in some parts of Black Twitter. The study began with an exploration of tweets related to the third season of the popular TV series Scandal and later looked at reactions to the trial of Michael Dunn in February 2014. Live-tweeting these events was not just a novel way to engage with entertainment and news media but also created an opportunity for people to communicate their particular cultural experiences and contemplate the social implications of these events together.

A secondary goal of the study is to develop a research approach that bridges qualitative and quantitative research methods. Last year, our team hosted several events at USC in which we invited friends and colleagues to join us to watch and live-tweet Scandal together. During these events, we collected publicly-accessible tweets and metadata that included terms related to Scandal using a software program that we wrote. We used this same software during the final days of the Michael Dunn trial. The materials we collected were then stored on a private computer under our control. Some weeks, millions of people tweeted about Scandal. These tweets are never made available to anyone outside of our research team, nor do we publish any information about the people who composed these messages.

We are committed to presenting this work with nuance and respect. For this reason, we have intentionally allowed the research to unfold at a slow pace, providing us with time to participate, reflect, and connect with other scholars. In May 2014, our project lead, Dayna Chatman, organized a panel with several scholars studying Black Twitter for the annual convention of the International Communication Association in Seattle. Next, we will be presenting some preliminary outcomes of the project at the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers in October 2014. We will publish updates as the project continues.


LAST UPDATED: September 5, 2014

9.3.14: added Dayna Chatman as project owner

9.5.14: added USC Annenberg Innovation Lab statement
9.5.14: updated project summary

Project Lead