Black users have long been one of Twitter’s most engaged demographics, flocking to the platform to drive online culture and drive social change in the real world. But a month after Elon Musk took office, some black influencers are looking for ways out just as he races to shore up the company’s business.
Several high-profile black users announced they were leaving Twitter in recent weeks, as investigators tracked an uptick in hate speech, including the use of the N-word, after Musk’s high-profile acquisition on October 27. The billionaire tech executive tweeted that activity is over Y hate speech down on the platform, which he said he hopes to make it a destination for more users.
At the same time he posted a video last week displaying company T-shirts with the #StayWoke hashtag created by Twitter’s black employee resource group following the deaths of black men that catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement, including the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014. His post contained laughing emojis, and someone can be heard laughing off-camera while the shirts are displayed.
musk after posted and then deleted a tweet about the protests fueled in part by activists on Twitter – which followed in Ferguson, Missouri, pointing to a later Justice Department report and stating the slogan “’Hands up, don’t shoot’ was invented. It was all a fiction.»
He also has moved to restore many banned accounts despite condemnation from civil rights groups like the NAACP, which accused him of allowing prominent users to «spew hate speech and violent conspiracies.» Civil rights leaders have also urged advertisers to pull out over concerns about its approach to content moderation.
Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.
In a blog post Posting Wednesday, the company said its «experimentation approach» has changed, but not any of its policies, though «the app will rely more on de-ampling infringing content: free speech, but not free scope. We remain committed to providing a safe, inclusive, entertaining and informative experience for everyone.”
Twitter downloads and activity on the platform have increased since Musk took control, according to two independent research firms. The data supports his claims that he is growing the service, though some social media experts say the findings may not shed much light on the company’s long-term prospects. And while there’s no hard data on how many black users joined or left the platform during that period, some prominent influencers say they’re actively looking for alternatives.
Jelani Cobb, a staff writer for The New Yorker and dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, said she joined two decentralized microblogging apps, Mastodon and Post News, after leaving Twitter, telling her nearly 400,000 followers last week that he had «seen enough.» The reinstatement of former President Donald Trump’s account was the «last straw,» he told NBC News.
“I can confidently say that I will not return to Twitter as long as Elon owns it,” he said. “Some people think that by staying on the site they are being defiant, defying the trolls, the incels, the ill will that they are encountering. But Elon Musk benefits from every interaction people have on that platform. That was the reason I left. There are some battles you can only win if you don’t fight.»
Imani Gandy, journalist and co-host of the podcast “¡Boom! Lawyer” (@AngryBlackLady, 270,000 followers), recently tweeted that she’s not enthusiastic enough about Twitter alternatives to switch platforms.
The longtime Twitter user said in an interview that a combination of blocking, filters, and «community-based accountability when it comes to anti-blackness» makes her less inclined to leave, for now. “Sure there are Nazis and idiots on Twitter, but it’s the same Nazis and idiots that have always been there, and I’m used to them,” she said.
Fanbase, another social networking app, has seen a 40% increase in the number of users in the last two weeks, according to its founder, Isaac Hayes III. “We contribute a lot to the culture and the real economy of these platforms,” he said, “but do we own them?”
Investors in the service, which allows users to monetize their following by offering subscriptions, include black celebrities such as rapper Snoop Dogg and singer and reality star Kandi Burruss. Other Fanbase investors, including often polarizing media personality Charlamagne Tha God (2.15 million Twitter followers) and former CNN analyst Roland Martin (675,000 followers) — they have promoted it What a Twitter alternative.
For more than a decade, the community known as “Black Twitter,” an unofficial group of users self-organizing around shared cultural experiences that convenes sometimes viral discussions about everything from social issues to pop culture, has played a key role. in movements like #SayHerName and #OscarsSoWhite.
In 2018, African Americans accounted for an estimated 28% of Twitter users, about twice the proportion of the black population in the US, according to the media measurement company Nielsen. As of this spring, black Americans were 5% more likely than the general population to have used Twitter in the past 30 days, second only to Asian-American users, he said.
Some signs indicate a slowdown among black Twitter users that predates Musk. In April, the growth rate among black Twitter users was already slower than any other ethnic group on the platform: 0.8% in 2021, down from 2.5% a year earlier, according to estimates provided by Insider Intelligence. eMarketer. (Growth among white users was 3.6%, up from 6%).
a recent Reuters report He cited internal Twitter research reflecting on a post-pandemic «absolute decline» in heavy tweeters, which the report described as less than 10% of monthly users but 90% of global tweets and revenue. Twitter told Reuters that its «overall audience has continued to grow.»
Catherine Knight Steele, a communications professor at the University of Maryland and author of «Digital Black Feminism,» said black celebrity departures may not herald a broader exodus, but she hopes black Twitter users will be less engaged on the platform with time.
If that bears out, he said, «without a strong black community on Twitter, the only way forward for the site is to lose more and more relevance as it’s flooded with more hate and vitriol,» risking more panic among advertisers. The watchdog group Media Matters estimated last week that nearly half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers they had announced or appeared to suspend their campaigns during Musk’s first month in command.
Any decline among highly engaged user segments would add pressure on Twitter’s business, analysts say, as 90% of users company income last year it came from advertising.
“No platform wants to alienate any user group, particularly an incredibly active user group,” said Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence eMarketer. «Twitter’s value proposition for advertisers has long been the quality and engagement of its core user base…so the more that addressable audience gets diluted, both in terms of size and engagement, the less attractive it is.» becomes the platform».
Steele said she has seen black women in particular disengage amid threats and harassment in recent years. And in recent weeks, high-profile black women have been among the most vocal about wanting to leave the platform.
Television powerhouse Shonda Rhimes tweeted to his 1.9 million followers at the end of October that she “doesn’t hang around waiting for what Elon has planned. Bye.” Rhimes, who did not respond to a request for comment, has had an outsized stature on the app, as he helped popularize live tweets with his Thursday night block «Shondaland» on ABC. The practice has been offered a test point for advertisers who are wary of uniting Twitter and television.
Other celebrities, including the singer. Tony Braxton (1.8 million followers on Twitter) and Whoopi Goldberg (1.6 million followers) have also announced their departure, citing concerns about hate speech. The Oscar and Emmy-winning co-host of «The View» said on the ABC talk show that she «is done with Twitter» for now. «I’m going out, and if she calms down and I feel more comfortable, maybe I’ll come back,» she said. Representatives for Braxton and Goldberg did not respond to requests for comment.
Steele said the story of black communities withdrawing from other arenas, including offline, bodes badly for Twitter if it can’t turn the tide.
«It’s crippling the economies of cities when blacks leave, platforms when blacks leave, entertainment sites when blacks leave,» he said. «Twitter would suffer a similar fate.»