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Black Twitter Activism, Bigger Than Hip Hop

In the late 1980s, Public Enemy rapper and Internet aficionado Chuck D famously remarked that hip hop was like the “black CNN,” speaking on the “lower frequencies” cited in Ralph Ellison’s "Invisible Man" about issues in African-American communities like the War on Drugs, sex and relationships, poverty and police brutality. As social media has become the default medium for gathering and disseminating information, Twitter posts provide the steady bass beat that continues to inform on similar topics, but with more portability and immediacy than ever before. This panel will examine how so-called “Black Twitter” exchanges news (like the Trayvon Martin case as a recent example) and uses it to mobilize political dialogue and direct action, and how information professionals--like librarians, journalists, and educators--can guide users toward responsible practices that respect the unique coding and cultural perspectives of black and other minority communities.


  1. How can librarians or educators empower more people to use the medium responsibly for maximum impact?
  2. What are the implications for social activism and community engagement in the black community through this medium?
  3. What can archived Tweets tell us about micro-organizing in marginalized communities?
  4. How can qualitative and quantitative research be applied to deconstruct (the existence of) marginalized communities on Twitter as a means of identifying, understanding and gaining entree in those communities?
  5. How does an analysis of historical communication structures in minority communities inform modern communicators who seek to foster inclusion in the information exchanges of our Web-based world?



Stacie Williams, Access and Reference Librarian, Harvard University

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