Nov. 15, 2011

Digital White Flight: On Twitter and Race (Via my blog, New Model

[NOTE: I wrote this nearly two years ago. It is both interesting and limited for this reason. Enjoy.]

Twitter and RaceTwo major events have happened in the last few days involving Twitterand race. On Sunday night, during The BET awards, the trending topics were:The BET Awards, Beyonce, Ne-Yo, BBD, Mary Mary, Keith Sweat, Tinyand Toya.

Yesterday afternoon, the trending topic became “fakeassnigga”because many, presumably Black, folks were retweeting @lilduvalwho tweeted about “fakeassniggas.”

Then all of a sudden the trending topic, “fakeassnigga” was gone.

The Twitter administrators apparently deleted it.

This action reminded me that as much as we think that the tweetsare ours, there is in fact a firewall, and by using the website we haveconsented to Twitters written and unwritten rules of usage.

In response to the deletion, I tweeted, “Wassup with the digital race scrubbing”and “Why should we expect people to be any less racist online than theyare offline?”

I then received a direct message from @allaboutgeorge for a linkto danah boyd’s essay, “Viewing Class Divisions through Facebookand Myspace.”boyd’s essay provides an accessible theoretical frameworkfor understanding race, class and social stratification on the internet.The essay was exactly what I needed to read at the moment.

Digital White Flightboyd’s general thesis is that some teens are flocking to Facebookand others are going to Myspace and their reasons for doing so haveto do with class.

She observed that the issue wasn’t that Facebook wasn’t becoming largerthan Myspace. The issue is socio-economic class. She writes,

Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The pictureis now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And someteens are flocking to Facebook. Who goes where gets kinda sticky…probably because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.

Which brings me to her general thesis which is that “what we do in society ismirrored in our behavior online.”

She has four notable points.The first is that,

As a society, we have strong class divisions and we project these values onto our kids. MySpace and Facebook seem to be showcasing this division quite well. My hope in writing this out is to point out that many of our assumptions are problematic and the internet often reinforces our views instead of challenging them.

The second is that Facebook appeals to teens who,

tend to come from families who emphasize education and going tocollege. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They areprimarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, lookingforward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens,“burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths,gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominanthigh school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’tgo to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school.These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately afterschools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace.MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at schoolbecause they are geeks, freaks, or queers..

The third is that what we do in society is mirrored in our behavior online.She writes,

The division around MySpace and Facebook is just another way in which technology is mirroring societal values. Embedded in that is a challenge to a lot of our assumptions about who does what. The “good” kids are doing more “bad” things than we are willing to acknowledge (because they’re the pride and joy of upwardly mobile parents). And, guess what? They’re doing those same bad things online and offline. At the same time, the language and style of the “bad” kids offends most upwardly mobile adults. We see this offline as well. I’ve always been fascinated watching adults walk to the other side of the street when a group of black kids sporting hip-hop style approach. The aesthetics alone offend and most privileged folks project the worst ideas onto any who don that style.

Lastly, and I was surprised to learn this, but there is apparently aclass division in the military that is reflected in social network usage.boyd writes,

A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. Thiswas a very interesting move because the division in the militaryreflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace;officers are on Facebook. Facebook is extremely popular in themilitary, but it’s not the SNS of choice for 18-year old soldiers,a group that is primarily from poorer, less educatedcommunities. They are using MySpace.

In light of boyd’s Facebook & Class doctrine, I began to see Twitter’smove to erase “fakeass nigga” from the trending topicsas a move to protect its brand, and prevent it from lookingtoo young, urban, working class and ghetto. In some ways,it can be seen as an effort to remain on the hegemonic,Facebook side of the equation instead of the moving closer tothe subalternative Myspace side.

Lets take a look at some of the comments madeabout the “fakeassnigga” trend by some of thepresumably white, users,

@zacharyskinner Why do retarded subjects like “Fake Ass Nigga” keepbecoming trending topics? Is twitter being overrun by the idiot crowd

@moohalaa I don’t have a “Fake Ass Nigga” clue why its a trending topic, Imust admit

@sandy7172cat OMG! This “Fake Ass Nigga” is horrible. Twitter you should beashamed.

@Kashaseptember Why are all these black people on trending topics. Neyo, Beyonce,Tyra, Jamie Fox. Is it black history monthagain? LOL.

During The BET Awards some of the tweets were saved as screen shotsand posted on Tumblr, on the site titled, “OMG! Black People”Tumblr, took the site down. In true internet fashion the , OMG! Black Peoplesprung up on WordPress. Here are some of the tweets,

@peggyrossmanith The current trending topics make me sad for America.

@Jennibenn1 screw these stupid trending topics, I am going to bed

@brighteyesjulie did anyone see the trendning topics. I don’t think this isa very good neighborhood. Lock the doors kids.

@sweethayle So many black people!

@rolololodan Why are all the trending topics about the BET awards.Fuck that channel.

In many ways, what we are seeing on Twitter are the racialcomments that folks would normally keep to themselves,or only mention to their peers with whom they feel safe.

These tweets run counter to the mainstream press’s notionof a post racial America. Keep in mind that I write this withthe understanding that noticing and understanding our contradictionsis the only way we can reconcile them and have real changeand progress.

The added dimension of the internet means that off handedcomments that where once private and racial are now public,racial, screen saved and posted on blogs.

In many ways, Iwe as a nation are so afraid of dealingwith race and class that we hope a technology will come alongand serve as some sort of microwave social justice tool that willand deal with it for us. The consequences of four hundred years ofchattel slavery will not be erased with the internet.

The truth is that technology will only further magnify the stereotypes,class distinctions and our general efforts to avoid dealing with each other.

boyd’s research, Twitter’s censorship and the comments made duringThe BET awards evidence this.

Who we are in our daily lives is who we are online, a key board,some plastic a hard drive will never change that.

What do you think of the removal of the trending topics?

What do you think of danah boyd’s theory about Facebook, Myspace and digital class distinctions?

Have you noticed anyhing else racial that has been censored recentlyonline?


  1. newmodelminority posted this
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