What happens to #BlackTwitter when Musk takes over?

Dark Planet? tumblr? Or, God forbid – MySpace?

These are some of the alternatives to Twitter offered by black users considering leaving the social media platform following news that Elon Musk is buying it in a $44 billion deal. The Tesla Inc. CEO’s plans for the brand center on addressing what he calls “free speech” issues, but his complaints have relied heavily on dog whistles from the extremely online segment of the political right. It has worried black Twitter users, as well as other minorities, that the floodgates are about to be opened for harassment, abuse and more.

Many left-leaning Twitter Inc. users are already yelling at the Musk deal. But the potential for the platform to lose many of its black users — or #BlackTwitter for those in the know — could mean a financial setback for the company, which has seen its social media app rise to prominence. , at least in part because of the cultural and social-justice discourse that black users have popularized. Researchers from Old Dominion University and Radford University called African-American users “among the most influential” of the app.

“It’s all hypothetical at this time, but worst-case scenario I can absolutely see a mass exodus of people from marginalized communities, especially those with large platforms who are already being targeted, from Twitter,” said April Reign, advocate. of diversity and inclusion, who is also a major influencer in #BlackTwitter circles and the creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in 2015.

About 11% of Twitter users are black, according to a 2018 Pew Research analysis. But even the company itself has acknowledged the outsized influence it has had on the platform. In an interview at the 2019 Essence Festival, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said #BlackTwitter is “such a powerful force.” A 2014 Pew study showed that black people spent more time on the social site – 22% of black Internet users accessed Twitter at high levels, compared to 16% of white people.

Now black Twitter users are asking, “What has Elon Musk done in his life to show he has the background or the cultural competence to lead an organization like this?” Reign said.

Musk’s racing track record at his existing businesses is spotty at best. This month, electric car maker Tesla revealed it was under investigation by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ahead of a three-year investigation by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The state agency sued Tesla in February, saying the company ignored “creeping racism” and years of complaints from black workers about racial slurs at its auto plant in Fremont, California.

Musk also calls himself a “free speech absolutist” and plans to take a minimalist approach to restrictions on the app. That prospect is already being celebrated by conservative activists and lawmakers, including Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, and Tucker Carlson, the popular cable news host.

“I am against censorship that goes way beyond the law,” the Tesla CEO tweeted this week. Earlier this month, during a panel discussion at the Ted2022 conference, Musk said he would be “very reluctant to remove things” and “very careful with permanent bans – timeouts, I think. , are better”.

Under Musk, Twitter could bring back accounts the company banned after they were used to harass others, spread misinformation or incite violence. For his part, former President Donald Trump, who has not been allowed on the platform since 2021, said this week that he would not return if his account was reinstated.

“Surely one of my concerns is what does free speech look like on the platform?” said Sherrell Dorsey, Founder and CEO of The Plug, a digital news platform covering the black innovation economy. “I am very concerned that free speech is turning into outright hatred.”

The concerns come after years of criticism that the company hadn’t gone far enough to protect marginalized users. Research has shown that minorities, women and people from other marginalized backgrounds face a torrent of abuse on social media sites like Twitter – black women in particular have been targets of vitriol.

Amnesty International found in an analysis of millions of posts that one in 10 tweets mentioning black women were abusive and problematic, compared to one in 15 for white women. Earlier this year, the Center for Countering Digital Hate reported that 47% of accounts that sent direct misogynistic abuse to high profile women like VP Kamala Harris and Lizzo went on to reoffend. Of the latest comments, 49% targeted a woman of color and 41% included the word “bitch”.

And just this week, Musk’s criticism of a content decision by Twitter’s legal team was followed by a wave of abusive tweets directed at the company’s top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, a woman of color.

Twitter has made efforts to crack down on abuse. Last year, the company said it “took action” on a record number of accounts for violating its hate speech policies in the second half of 2020. In 2017, Twitter said it would hide content from abusive tweeters and prevent them from creating new accounts in an offer to clean up the app. But it remains to be seen whether these types of measures will continue under Musk’s ownership.

Researcher Meredith Clark defined #BlackTwitter as a “network of culturally connected communicators”. The platform is often used to draw attention to issues affecting black communities, she said when she was an assistant professor at the University of Virginia in an interview posted on the website. ‘school.

The community has had a national impact in recent years in response to police violence against black people. The hashtags #ICantBreathe and #SayHerName flooded the site following the deaths of Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor, respectively. #BlackLivesMatter, which rose to prominence following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Travyon Martin, was used some 48 million times on Twitter in the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Black users say it’s also a place for connection, reflection, nostalgia and humor. Andre Brock, an associate professor at Georgia Tech who studies #BlackTwitter, cites the camaraderie around the 2009 BET Awards, which took place right after Michael Jackson’s death, and the show’s early days of “Scandal” as early examples where the platform has become a “second-screen” experience.

“Those times were where we shared our joy over something, our laughs over other things, our criticism over other things,” Brock said. It built the platform “into a space that was immediately fertile ground to then build the impact of, say, Ferguson or Trayvon Martin,” he said.

The decision to leave the platform or not is complicated.

Developing a following on the app can provide a pathway to jobs, mentorships and connections that might otherwise be closed to some people, said Dorsey of The Plug. (She is unrelated to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.)

“I’m someone who’s had a college education and graduate school – had some level of access,” she said. “I still have access to people, organizations, institutions and opportunities through my presence on the platform.”

Reign, who said “I owe my professional career the way it is now” to Twitter, is considering quitting the app, albeit reluctantly. Her #OscarsSoWhite message launched changes to the Oscars to make the electorate more diverse. Reign said she would wait to see what changes unfold once Musk’s deal is official.

Bridget Todd, creator and host of the podcast There Are No Girls On The Internet and communications director for women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, said the company owes the users who made the platform a success a certain level of accountability and transparency on the changes that will affect them. . Regardless of what happens, she doesn’t think this will be the end of the momentum #BlackTwitter has built.

“If there’s one thing that I believe in, and one thing that gives me a lot of hope, it’s that as black people we’ll always find a way out of nowhere,” Todd said. “We’re always going to cut out what we need in a space, even when that space bends over backwards to tell us over and over and over again, that it wasn’t made for us, that they don’t want us there, that they’re not going to amplify us.

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