Twitter, Coming to a Serious Racial Discussion Near You

African-Americans embrace the tweets

Recently, the Pew Center released a study on the age and racial demographics of Twitter users. They found that one in five Internet users posts status updates on Twitter or another social networking site (Full disclosure: I am a member of that highly elite and breakfast-detailing 20%).

More interestingly, they found that African-American Internet users use Twitter in greater proportion than Internet users from any other racial group. Twenty-six percent of African-Americans online use Twitter or other status-updating sites like Twitter. That far exceeds that 19% of white web users and 18% of Hispanic web users who happily tweet away (no stats for the Asian population, though. What’s the matter, Pew? Do the Twitter habits of Asians not matter to you?!).

There’s a great deal of anecdotal evidence that Twitter is thriving among the African-American population. In the sports world, there are seemingly far more African-American athletes using the service than their white counterparts. Bengals star Chad Ochocinco and Cowboys star Martellus Bennett count among that group. And trending topics like #RIPKanyeWest (a Kanye West death hoax), and #UaintHittinItRight can be found among the day’s most popular topics with great frequency. And with those trending topics comes the inevitable complaints from confused white people.

Blogger Choire Sicha of The Awl has a delightful post trying to figure out why Twitter is so popular in the black community, particularly, as he posits, late at night. He doesn’t get very far. We go to the blockquotes:

White geek Nick Douglas had a theory about Black People Twitter a while ago. His friend suggested, "These people don’t have real Twitter friends. So they all respond to trending topics." This is so obviously wrong. ("No, they have their own communities and their own friends that you are not paying attention to," wrote Maria Diaz.) And then Douglas himself posted a great response to his poor dumb friend: "It's the nature of how we craft these environments to suit our core comforts and fine tune our Twitter experiences. Twitter’s addition of the trending topics bar has simply shattered our insulated perception of how everyone uses this thing."

I suspect, in the coming weeks and months, you’re going to see a lot of theories about the growing African-American Twitter community. Nearly every theory you read will be a wild generalization (“Twitter is hip, and so are black people!”), and far from a perfect explanation. But the story behind the growing demographic is practically a moot point anyway. What IS important to know is that Twitter, more than other corners of the Internet, has a strong African-American presence that’s meshing with other users, offering viewpoints that can’t be ignored, and making real the idea that Twitter could be the great idea marketplace of the 21st century. It’s not a puzzle to solve. It’s a development to get excited over.

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