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Hashtag Publics

The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks


Edited By Nathan Rambukkana

This collection investigates the publics of the hashtag. Taking cues from critical public sphere theory, contributors are interested in publics that break beyond the mainstream – in other publics. They are interested in the kinds of publics that do politics in a way that is rough and emergent, flawed and messy, and ones in which new forms of collective power are being forged on the fly and in the shadow of loftier mainstream spheres.
Hashtags are deictic, indexical – yet what they point to is themselves, their own dual role in ongoing discourse. Focusing on hashtags used for topics from Ferguson, Missouri, to Australian politics, from online quilting communities to labour protests, from feminist outrage to drag pop culture, this collection follows hashtag publics as they trend beyond Twitter into other spaces of social networking such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr as well as other media spaces such as television, print, and graffiti.
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Chapter Fifteen: Black Twitter: Building Connection through Cultural Conversation


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Black Twitter: Building Connection through Cultural Conversation


There’s power in these Black Twitter streets…motivating masses to do anything creates something. There’s always results. A lot of times on Twitter there are just a lot of words, but then something gets done. Someone once told me, “your greatest resources in life are people,” and that’s especially true of Black Twitter, because we don’t do a lot in life to motivate each other. People reach people to get things done. If you reach a lot of people, you can get things done via Twitter.

—@PresidentialHB (personal communication, 2014)

Thanks to the curiosity and extended gaze of mainstream mass media producers, Black Twitter has been definitively framed for its ability to “get things done” through online conversation. Black Twitter forms its own hashtag public through an ongoing process of self- and group-identity maintenance, using hashtagged tweets to set boundaries of inclusion and articulate its values. These users, standouts among the 26% of all African Americans who use the Internet, have often been characterized as a digital mob. Using online messaging to draw attention to news of interest to Black communities in the United States, these users participate in what Brock (2013, p. 529) describes as “cultural conversation” — engaging in the banal, chatting about television shows, and notably, lampooning and lambasting offenders. Their communicative acts contribute to an ever-evolving sense of community (McMillan & Chavis,...

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