top of page
  • Writer's pictureOmar Pusey

Online Social Movements: Black Twitter, Black Feminism, and #BlackLivesMatter

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

It’s Black history month, a time where we can reflect on the impact and advancements of the Black community over the years. In Western society, some historical events that occurred are still prevalent today, even if most of our interactions occur online.

During 2020, Black Lives Matter took the world by storm, specifically in the United States through engaging in riots and peaceful protests in order to fight against police brutality, political injustice and most of all, racism.These protests ignited after the tragic deaths of people like Ahmad Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. After experiencing a protest in person, it was amazing to see how well a peaceful protest could spread awareness and allyship for building equality. Meanwhile, the world was also facing a global pandemic, with millions of people confined to their homes. More than 3.6 billion people were active users of social media online. It felt as if social media became the catalyst for anything related to social justice and equality. Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter clashed with #bluelivesmatter,and a plethora of traumatic events took place both in the digital universe and the real world. But then in 2021 something felt incomplete, as if the interactions online and within Black Lives Matter were two completely different worlds. To some individuals, Black Twitter utilizing hashtags to engage in polarizing debates online sounds a little far-fetched. When in reality, that is exactly what Black Twitter is and it is done through the use of #BlackLivesMatter. Within this post, I will explain how Black Twitter is creating a digital world to engage in polarizing political debate to push the fight to equality.

Black Lives Matter vs #BlackLivesMatter

The organization Black Lives Matter is recognized as a non-profit Social Movement devoted to bringing equality and awareness across the world. The organization was founded by three Black feminists: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Alicia Garza actually founded the hashtag through a post on social media back in 2013. According to their website, Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013, after the death of Trayvon Martin. Though the organization Black Lives Matter was involved in the creation of the hashtag, they do not control it, the public does. The controversial outcomes and implications of BLM should have no correlation with the hashtag; think of them as two completely different entities.

Whereas #Blacklivesmatter is a world-renowned hashtag introduced to the world in 2013 as a response to Trevon Martin’s murder. The hashtag curation was created by three Black women, with special recognition to Alicia Garza, who curated it. Twitter became the home for #BLM because it was the only form of digital media that incorporated it into a trending topic algorithm. Soon after #BLM was the birth of Black Lives Matter, the social movement with the goal of establishing peace, justice and freedom across the world. Within the hashtag, Twitter users could find content that was political, informative, and related to Black culture. Then in 2020, #BLM’s engagement increased substantially after George Floyd’s death, igniting the most significant racial justice protest since the civil rights movement.

The origins of Black Twitter Identity?

Did you know that a cultural identity can be established through digital media and replicated to establish normative behavior. Within the online landscape, identity is actually formed through modes of language, something that establishes power dynamics and governs cultures overall. In the sense of Black Twitter, it is a phenomenon that exceeded demographic expectations. For African Americans, it was difficult accessing technology such as smartphones and portable computer devices, resulting in the digital divide between dominant and marginalized groups within western culture. However, Black people were able to establish identity online through the use of phonemes, idioms, and a form of semiotics known as “Signifyin” discourse. Andre Brock’s Signifyin discourse essentially defines how Black Twitter users interact and portray Black Identity online through semiotics. Signifyin redefines objects, Black cultural commonplaces and philosophy, authenticating a user’s cultural identity in the process. Essentially, there are words with hidden meanings and translations that are only known to people within the Black community. In order to understand the hidden meanings, you must understand the culture. Oftentimes, the meanings involve sadistic and sarcastic humor. Within the context of meaning-making, the application of signifyin’ discourse is what defines Black online identity, especially within the context of #BlackLivesMatter. Black Twitter are the primary users of #BlackLivesMatter, meaning that a substantial amount of Signifyin is used to interact within the space of the hashtag. However, the difference within the context of #BLM, is that there are other factors that come into play that impact how content sparks polarizing discussion online.

Remember when I said that #BlackLivesMatter was established by Black Feminists? Well, Black Feminism acts as the foundation of the hashtag, merging with the cultural influence of Black Twitter users. Black feminism is also known as an intellectual, artistic and activist practice that is grounded exclusively through the lived experience of Black women. As a result, Black Twitter unconsciously adopts Black Feminist ideology as users engage with anti-racist content within #BlackLivesMatter. Black Feminism existed long before Twitter and hashtags were popularized online (yes, I’m talking about the civil rights movement), and it will continue to influence people as society moves through the digital ages.

The future of #BlackLivesMatter and Online Social Movements

Currently, the hashtag #Blacklivesmatter houses news content that deviates from the public sphere to prioritize social justice news and establish counter-public Twitter’s features, enabling content that media outlets cannot publicize. While news sources are often criticized for controversial headlines and false narratives, the agents of Black Twitter use #BlackLivesMatter to protest white-centered, patriarchal, and unfavourable news sources. Without the use of #BlackLivesMatter, it is quite possible that racialized and marginalized political issues may have never received global attention from traditional media. However, the content on the platform is unregulated, sometimes to a fault. Online, Twitter users engage with anti-racist, malicious and uncomfortable content, habitually. Any Twitter user can type #BlackLivesMatter in the searchbar and find all the latest news, trends, and conversations across the world related to social injustices. Signifyin’ discourse adds a cultural and pedagogical aspect that keeps the community authentic. #BlackLivesMatter is a great tool, but these aspects of the hashtag do not necessarily make it a great community. The page is saturated with polarizing content, while not all content within the hashtag is necessarily concerned with establishing social change. Opinions between users can be violent and establish animosity between users. Twitter is an unregulated platform that comes with its own risks. #BlackLivesMatter isn’t perfect, but it's a step in the right direction in terms of social movements and reconciliation.

Coffee consumed while writing: 64 OZ

Resources to check out

Andre Brock - Media Studies Professor : Andre's scholarship examines racial representations in social media, videogames, black women and weblogs, whiteness, and techno cultures, including some groundbreaking research on Black Twitter.

Click the link below to see more on #BlackLivesMatter


bottom of page