We told you Black Twitter was an authentic movement but now, a research group of outsiders are trying to put the cultural phenomenon under the microscope and overanalyze it.

The University of Southern California’s Data Science at the Annenberg Innovation Lab (DSAIL) has taken a particular liking to Black Twitter and have decided to conduct extensive research.

Their mission in summary:

The dynamism of Black Twitter presents a methodological challenge because it defies the conventional keyword-based approach that researchers rely on to track communities of interest on social media. Unlike similarly open-ended groups who identify themselves using a shared hashtag (e.g., #tcot, or “top conservatives on Twitter”), the tweets by those users that make up Black Twitter tend to exhibit more complex rhetorical strategies – such as references to black culture or ways of calling out similarly-identified users – that evade simple mechanical classification. The terminology and humor of Black Twitter evolves rapidly over time, complicating any effort to generate a definitive list of key terms or phrases.

In order to observe the unpredictable flow of Black Twitter activity, we turn instead to a structured set of events around which a significant percentage of the Black Twitter community has gathered. Our case study focuses on the popular television show, Scandal (of which the protagonist is notable actress, Kerry Washington). From October 3 to December 12, 2013, we tracked the activity of any user tweeting about Scandal, and logged their Twitter conversations and user metadata. With this collection as a starting point, we have begun to map out the relationships among users who “live-tweet” Scandal in an effort to identify sub-groups of users that interact with one another outside of their shared interest in the TV show. From there, we hope to identify particular cliques of individuals that identify as part of Black Twitter to further explore their engagement with the show and each other on Twitter as well as their offline participation more generally in black culture and politics.

Such technical jargon didn’t go well with the Black Twitter audience and the tables were turned, as you can see below.

Check out the jokes USC brought against themselves for their planned research.


Photos: Twitter

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