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Last week, Farhad Manjoo caused an uproar when he wrote a piece for Slate.com called "How Black People Use Twitter." We asked NPR's Sam Sanders to find out why the article made so many people so mad.
SAM SANDERS: Whenever you have a headline that starts with the three words, how, black and people, someone's going to get upset, not to mention the addition of a controversial photo. In this case, the little blue Twitter bird colored brown, holding a smartphone, wearing an oversized baseball cap.
But Slate's Farhad Manjoo said he knew what he was getting into when he wrote: "How Black People Use Twitter."
Mr. FARHAD MANJOO (Author, "How Black People Use Twitter"): I was bound to offend people with this article. But I thought that it was kind of worth a risk to ask and perhaps answer some interesting questions.
SANDERS: His question was why so many popular topics on Twitter, called hashtags, seem to come from blacks, specifically black youth. Manjoo says he made that observation by checking out their Twitter profile photos.
Mr. MANJOO: Young black people are not a group of people that I see every day. I don't have any teenage black friends. And the fact that they were part of this conversation just a click away from me was something that I was very interested in. I was seeing trending topics every day that were dominated by black people.
SANDERS: Trending topics like words that lead to trouble, or if Santa was black, or ghetto baby names.
Manjoo says black teens follow more people, re-tweet more often, and reply to posts more frequently on Twitter, causing certain topics to rise in popularity that have nothing to do with breaking news or celebrities like Justin Bieber. That premise might seem pretty innocuous, but once it hit the Web, there was a backlash.
Mr. BARATUNDE THURSTON (Blogger, Comedian): Is this a reasonable way to talk about people who are still right there in the room?
SANDERS: That's Baratunde Thurston, a popular blogger�and comedian featured in Manjoo's piece.
Mr. THURSTON: If you look at the network of 40-year-old white male technologists, you will see that they talk to each other a lot as well. And they're re-tweeting each other and replying to each other. But it doesn't stand out because that is considered mainstream.
SANDERS: Danielle Belton of�blacksnob.com�wrote a blog post criticizing the article. She said that Manjoo was making something out of nothing.
Ms. DANIELLE BELTON (Blogger, blacksnob.com): It's like a black person on a bike - I've never seen that. Black people ride bikes? There's a black guy on a skateboard? Black people ride skateboards? It becomes, like, a thing. Like, no, no, no, they're on a bike and a skateboard for the same reason why anybody would be on a bike and a skateboard. There's, like, no special racialized way of skateboarding or riding a bike, and that's the same kind of way it is with Twitter.
SANDERS: But Slate's Farhad Manjoo says that, on Twitter, black people actually do behave differently.
Mr. MANJOO: The reason that the article is about black people is because these participants in these hashtags are using the service in a unique way. And I think that one of the reasons why I wasn't interested in how white people use Twitter is because I haven't seen groups of white people use it in this very interesting way.
SANDERS: Which takes us back to that Slate image of a Twitter bird with brown skin and an oversized baseball cap - the image used to further illustrate these unique black tweeters. So, forget about the question of whether the premise of the article was right or wrong - that black Twitter bird went viral.
Blacksnob.com's Danielle Belton.
Ms. BELTON: The photo - oh my God, the photo - like, the photo was this weird combination of both cute and offensive.
SANDERS: Alicia Nassardeen of the blog instant vintage, was the first to parody the black Twitter bird. She�Photoshopped�the birds with afros, wearing kente cloths and graduation caps. Danielle Belton says it makes the point that black people aren't a monolith.
Ms. BELTON: You could make a bird cater to you. I mean, the guy I follow on Twitter, Sean Padilla, you know, put in a request for his bird to be light-skinned with an afro playing guitar. And, you know, she made him one.
SANDERS: The parody photos started showing up as Facebook profile images and Twitter pics across the Internet. Baratunde Thurston says those black Twitter bird spinoffs might be even more powerful than the article itself.
Mr. THURSTON: That's a form of activism, that's a form of community organizing, that's a form of reasserting a claim to your own identity and countering what you see as a damaging media message.
SANDERS: Whoa, who knew the Twitter bird was so deep?
Sam Sanders, NPR News.
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