A black woman using social media

A black woman using Twitter. © Carlos Santa Maria - Fotolia.com

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Black Twitter is an online phenomenon gaining ground for its power to influence social discourse, and might now even be a potent force of political action.

Black Twitter consists of a mix of people from the full spectrum of African-American life, a loose group of thousands who often join in on collective conversations.

Some are saying this group of mostly African-American tweeters with large followings shut down plans for a book by one of the former jurors in the George Zimmerman trial, juror B37.

Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13 of second degree and manslaughter charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, in Sanford, Florida in February 2012. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense.

Black Twitter balks at controversial book

When it was announced that juror B37 had secured an agent and was seeking a book deal to describe her experiences on the trial, many denizens of Black Twitter — sometimes referred to as “#blacktwitter” — quickly attacked the project

But it was the tweet of one Black Twitter member in particular that sparked responses that may have led to the book’s demise.

Genie Lauren, who tweets from the handle of @moreandagain, sent this tweet to the roughly 1,600 followers she had at the time:

Lauren also started a Change.org petition calling for the book project to be abandoned.

“I was angry and I didn’t think it was right that someone would make money off of this tragedy,” Lauren told NewsOne about her motivations.

Black Twitter took up her cause. Her petition quickly gained signatures, and the book agent mentioned in the tweet, Sharlene Martin, became inundated with tweets criticizing her and the idea.

Snarky tweets hit the mark

Users who responded took the occasion to express their feelings about the verdict.

One user tweeted, “maybe @SharleneMartin will use the blood money she earns off a dead teen’s body to update her website finally.”

“Think everyone should let @sharlenemartin know how disgusting and inappropriate the book, deal and her representing it is!” added “Theezy Gillespie,” who goes by the handle @LastNameMorris.

What was the result?

Although the exact role Black Twitter played is unclear, within hours of the announcement of the book deal and the Black Twitter response, Sharlene Martin contacted Lauren saying she would be rescinding the agenting offer. She also made a formal announcement to the press.

“After careful consideration regarding the proposed book project with Zimmerman Juror B37, I have decided to rescind my offer of representation in the exploration of a book based upon this case. All best, Sharlene Martin Martin Literary Management,” the agent tweeted to Lauren, in a series of messages Lauren subsequently shared with her followers.

“I was shocked because I didn’t think the response from other Tweeters would happen so quickly,” Lauren told News One. “I thought that even if we got 1,000 signatures that I would hear something like, ‘Sorry you feel this way but we’re stilling going ahead with this book.’ I really didn’t expect for this to happen like this so quickly.”

Juror B37 also weighed in through her former agent on the development, stating that she did not understand the “depth of pain” some people felt related to the Zimmerman trial.

“Now that I am returned to my family and to society in general,” her statement read, “I have realized that the best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life as it was before I was called to sit on this jury.”

The power of Black Twitter

What gives Black Twitter its power is the interlocking of African-American minds that takes place when this incredibly active group on this social media engine come together to support an idea.

The power of Black Twitter famously helped to make ABC’s Scandal a huge hit.

“Scandal’s social media campaigns have generated more than 2,200 tweets a minute and five worldwide trending topics, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The latest ratings for the soap-style show are up by 23 percent,” wrote Courtney Garcia in a Grio report about this phenomenon. “According to TechCrunch, almost twice as many African-Americans use Twitter as whites, and a significant chunk of those users have become the backbone of Scandal’s social sphere.”

Now that Black Twitter has influenced the halt of the publication of a narrative that some found troubling, the social media phenomenon might be seen as more than just a place where people talk about pop culture.

Other media tap into Black Twitter

Editors at Essence magazine are planning to tap into this incredible force through the launch of a Twitter hashtag: #HeIsNotASuspect. As racial profiling has been an important issue in recent months, Essence seeks to harness the power of Black Twitter to provide users with a forum for healing discussions and empowerment.

“ESSENCE’s #HeIsNotASuspect campaign is designed to challenge negative images of young African-American men,” Essence Acting Managing Editor Vanessa Bush said in a statement. “We also wanted to create a forum for mothers, grandmothers, aunts and everyone else to proclaim that young African-American men are to be celebrated and not feared.”

Lauren certainly agrees that the power of social media, if linked to a real-world cause and followed through with action, is definitely empowering.

“I went from feeling incredibly helpless about Zimmerman’s verdict, to being overwhelmed with joy,” she tweeted as a response to the success of her digital political action.

Grio writer Kirsten West Sevali has called Black Twitter “the fluid and indelible cultural footprint of a generation” in a recent piece on this site about the phenomenon, referring to the potential of this group mind — that is largely African-American — to enact lasting change.

Time will tell if blacks — who outpace all groups in the use of social media — will continue to potently use this virtual power.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb.

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