Such a loss would, of course, be immeasurable. “Black Twitter reflects an expanded reach of blackness and a rejection of respectability,” said Sarah J. Jackson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of #HashtagActivism. “It’s modeled what a healthy public sphere might look like, from the call-ins and callouts to the community debates about identity, from the parts that make you uncomfortable to the parts that inspire you.”
Denver Sean is an editor at the gossip news site Love B. Scott. He joined Twitter in 2009, just as Black Twitter was crystallizing and felt it was the first platform to give black people a collective voice. “There was no one there to guard or silence black people’s opinions,” he says. “It’s just a chronological feed of Black thoughts. That’s great – usually.
So when the time comes and Black Twitter has to close shop, can it be replicated on another social media platform?
“Probably not,” says Brock. “Mastodon is in a silo. Discord is voice oriented. TikTok is too busy. Nothing else closely replicates Twitter’s feature set.” He says Instagram is the most obvious contender because it has “seen a slow exodus of Black Twitter over the past five years. It’s not satisfying, but it has a pithy Black Instagram experience that will suffice for now.
I should note that the very real end of Twitter is part of the social internet life cycle. Digital reservoirs are dying and new ones are being built in their wake. This has been true for as long as black users have been online, from the rise and demise of Melanet in the late 1990s to BlackPlanet and MySpace. Social migration is a constant.
Another option that has come up in conversations between members of Black Twitter, albeit fleetingly, is Somewhere Good, the audio platform that rivals Clubhouse but focuses exclusively on inclusive communities. However, unlike Twitter, it relies solely on voice notes and bills itself as “an app that feels less like a feed and more like a bribe.”
Whatever the destination, Black Twitter will be increasingly difficult to replicate. “The infrastructures of places like Mastodon and TikTok, which are of course vastly different from each other, are too segmented to create the feeling of a true public plaza,” says Jackson. “They require a learning curve that many will resist, are algorithmically designed to limit content, and are ephemeral. I expect that many people will rely more on Instagram, but it will never be the same again.”
What will become of the social internet without its public square? Sean says change has already happened, citing how it’s lost the allure of its earlier days when everything felt more organic and users weren’t trying to create virality. “Black Twitter today isn’t even the Black Twitter of a few years ago,” he says. “Whatever happens on any new platform, it will reflect that, but not Black Twitter.”