#ABCReports and Black Twitter

Curator's Note

Editorial Note: This post was co-written by Tzarina Prater  

After Miley Cyrus’ performance on the MTV Music Awards, ABC ran the story "Twerking: A Scientific Explanation.” Within minutes, Black Twitter users were appropriating ABC’s “official” hashtag #ABCReports to contest, lampoon, and satirize ABC as a cultural institution as well as the reductive racial ideologies within the piece. We set up a ScraperWiki account to gather all tweets with the hashtag #ABCReports, and early findings from the scraped Twitter data suggest that Black Twitter users satirized assumptions about raced and classed participation in economics, education, “social issues”, science and medicine, along with groups of other tweets that crossed genres/forms while alluding to older examples of popular culture such as Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” There were also a number of metatweets that allude to the creativity and vibrancy of the Black Twitter community of users. Our examination of this instantiation of Black Twitter points to how content analysis and the study of specific rhetorical acts by Black Twitter users (individually and as a collectivity) can add to work on new and social media use and racialized imaginaries in digital media by scholars such as André Brock and Anna Everett as well as popular writers such as Farhad Manjoo, Anil Dash, and other tech writers/bloggers.

In the clip to the left, we contrast the ways that various sites curated the ABCReports hashtag with what some of the data from our scrape hint at regarding the speed, pervasiveness, and mutlivocality of Black Twitter. Using new digital tools it is possible to map and time the spread of RTs as well as map the activities of specific users and of specific new digital collectivities. Instead of selecting and curating tweets, what does it mean to look at acts of hashtag appropriation at the macro- and micro-level?In the past couple of years, uses, appropriations, adoptions, and subversions of hashtags have been chronicled by scholars interested in the communicative properties of Twitter; studies of crisis communication, parody, and activism on Twitter have added to our understandings of Twitter as a platform and agency/power/identity in the digital age. What can Black Twitter tell us about the relationship between data scraping, textual analysis, and cultural studies? What does it mean to “harvest” or scrape racialized expression? What are the ethics of scraping identifications in Twitter?

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