Review: ‘Black Twitter’ Looks at Who Gave the Platform Its Voice

Who created Twitter?

On one level, the business level, the Wikipedia level, the answer is simple: Twitter, a social-media service allowing users to post brief messages, was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

But on the level of culture, the people who “create” a social platform — that is, who decide what it’s for, what it can do, how it feels — are the people who use it. “Black Twitter: A People’s History,” which arrives on Hulu on Thursday, argues that it was Black users who, as much or more than anyone, gave Twitter its voice.

A couple of caveats are useful here. Though Twitter, now called X, is a global infosystem with worldwide effects, the three-part documentary, based on a Wired oral history by Jason Parham, focuses mainly on Twitter as an American phenomenon. And Black Twitter, the series is careful to point out, isn’t a monolith or formal group but the more general phenomenon of Blackness and Black culture manifesting online.

“Black Twitter” treats the network not mainly as technology or business but as a cultural artifact — a platform, even an art form, for commentary, community and comedy. Twitter, it argues, is another part of American culture, like music and food, that Black Americans defined by coming to it from the margins.

“In the same way that we took our lamentations and made gospel music, we took a site like Twitter and we made it a storytelling forum,” Meredith Clark, a journalism professor undertaking an archive of Black Twitter, says in the documentary. Or as the comedian Baratunde Thurston pithily puts it: “We repurposed Twitter the way we repurposed chitlins.”

This scaffolding of ideas elevates “Black Twitter” above the kind of remember-this-remember-that pop-history documentary that it can resemble on the surface. Appropriate to its subject, it tells its story in a series of small bites. It stitches together interviews with academics, journalists, entertainers, viral stars and figures from business and politics with a nimble narration by the director, Prentice Penny.

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