This week the tag #GrowingUpBlack began trending on Twitter, and along with it came similar tags such as: #GrowingUpMexican, #GrowingUpArab, and #GrowingUpBengali. The intent of this tag was for people to share stories of their childhood and compare how similar the experience of growing up was. When the other tags started popping up, a few similarities drew attention and brought a small group of people together in their experiences.
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What I Learned From Tweeting With A Black Woman’s Avatar For #RaceSwapExp

Two weeks ago, after writer and activist Suey Park sparked a wave of protest and dude-bro angst with her response to the Colbert Report’s racist tweet, I heeded Suey’s call and began to tweet about why Colbert’s work did not qualify as satire, did nothing to improve the lived experiences of people of color and was often racist and transmisogynist. Some of my tweets were included in the first half dozen or so pieces about the trending hashtag and the conversation it ignited. For me, the experience was thought provoking and empowering; it was also rather easy. How? I was tweeting as a white man. Everything I said was accepted, supported, re-tweeted or (at worst) ignored.

That was in stark contrast to the countless rape/death threats leveled at Suey and many other women. Not to mention the myriad bro-pundits—Huffington Post’s Josh Zepps and Slate’s Dave Weigel are obvious examples—desperate to derail and silence Park by calling her opinions “stupid” and using phrases like “weaponized hashtags.” This flurry of dude-bro logic and mansplaining led to something unexpected in my timeline, as many women of color and black women began to switch their avatars to those of white men. The result? A dramatic decrease in the number of trolls and the severity of said trolls. Fed-Up Hipster wrote a great piece about why she’s had a bearded white hipster’s avi since last fall.

Mikki Kendall—who launched #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, among others—inspired other women of color and black women to offer up photographs of themselves for white people who wanted to participate in #RaceSwapExp for the week. Shortly thereafter, I expressed my interest in participating and Feminista Jones was gracious enough to allow me to use a picture of her for the next five days. I’ll admit I was hesitant: How would people respond? Would the content of my tweets change or be received differently? The basic requirement for #RaceSwapExp was that you couldn’t change how or what you tweeted—and you had to obtain permission from the person whose avatar you used. I learned a few lessons about white supremacy and misogyny while tweeting as “Christine” with a picture of Feminista Jones as my avi.

1. My follower count went up by about 65. The vast majority of these were social justice-minded people; many (not all) were women of color. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m thrilled.

2. My troll count went from a handful per week to many more, overnight. I was blocking/reporting around 15 to 25 of them per day. Many were eggs, some were white liberals, some were right-wingers and others were just dudes of unknown political origin.

3. The level of hateful tweets went from zero to off the charts. With many of these trolls, I would respond once and then block them, or just block them. One such troll, @vincentBrook666, tweeted the following to me in all caps.

(This was a manual RT response to the original tweet, as @vincentBrook666 deleted the original tweet.)

That type of language was fairly typical and nothing like I had ever experienced before. I was simultaneously horrified and not surprised. Though this language makes you feel uncomfortable (as it should), people are spoken to this way on a daily basis.

4. I didn’t change the tone or content of my tweets; however, I did tell at least one troll to jump off a cliff. I called another troll “white boy,” which in hindsight was probably provocative. I was very frustrated. Would I have tweeted that with my regular avatar? I believe so. I’d called out Dave Weigel’s ahistorical and white dude-bro coverage of #CancelColbert—with my regular avi—and he responded by blocking me. Were both of my responses perceived differently with a black woman’s avi? Definitely. Is this perception because of racist assumptions about black women and women of color? Of course.

5. Before switching my avatar, I’d been labeled a white hipster and called a faggot. One troll said that I was only defending women of color because I wanted to sleep with them. Because it’s somehow impossible for a man to just respect the humanity of black women?

6. The mansplaining came from all directions—self-proclaimed liberals, far-right conservatives and libertarians. A gay white journalist who I know in real life explained that I don’t understand satire.

For me, #RaceSwapExp was eye-opening because it allowed me, for one week, to experience a little bit of what black women and women of color deal with 24/7/365 in all online spaces: endless trolling, racist and misogynistic hate, tactics that silence and derail, demeaning assaults on their humanity. Even so, no matter what happened to me, it was just an experiment. I was (and am) privileged—I knew that in a few days I could go back to the safety of my regular avi. For the brilliant women of color that I follow, that’s not an option. If nothing else, this experience has given a new urgency to my personal resolve: I will work to dismantle white supremacy, decenter whiteness and center the voices of black people in my work and my life. TC mark

By  CHRISTOPHER CARBONE for Thought Catalogue

What To Watch: Instafame Documentary

Ever wonder what the effects of being “instgram famous” are on teenagers? Instafame aims to explore that question is this thoughtful short.

Instafame is an exploration of a teenager’s relationship with fame through the lens of instagram. The documentary centers around Shawn Megira, a teenager from Long Island who had 81K instagram followers, and asks questions related to the nature of fame and why so many young people see it as the ultimate measure of success.

The doc was created by Sylvain Labs, a strategic planning consultancy in New York, with the help of Greencard Pictures.

Watch the 11 minute documentary here.

INSTAFAME DOCUMENTARY from Sylvain Labs on Vimeo.

Facebook Adds New Gender Identity Options for Users

Facebook has always pushed users to reveal their true identities on the service, and on Thursday, it took that commitment to a new level.

The social network now allows users to select a “custom gender” for their profiles, meaning users who do not identify as male or female can select a neutral gender identity.


Until Thursday, users could only select their gender as female (“she” and “her”), or male (“he” and “his”). Now, users in the United States can choose gender neutral (“they” or “their”).

“While to many this change may not mean much, for those it affects it means a great deal,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email. “We see this as one more way we can make Facebook a place where people can express their authentic identity.”

When a male user celebrates a birthday, friends may be alerted with a message that reads, “Write on Matt’s wall for HIS birthday.” If a user elects to identify as gender neutral, the Facebook message would change to, “Write on Matt’s wall for THEIR birthday.”



Facebook announced the change on the company’s Diversity page, and says that it worked with “a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations” to compile a list of gender options. Users can change their gender settings by clicking “About” and selecting the edit icon in the upper-right hand corner of the “Basic Information” tab.

There, users can set their genders to “Custom” and then select from a long list of specific gender options. New option include transgender, bigender, cis, and gender questioning, among many others. (Cis, or cisgender, refers to those who identify as the same gender that they were assigned at birth.)

It’s unclear how many Facebook users self-identify as gender neutral, and a spokesperson did not provide numbers.


Twitter Users’ Diversity Becomes an Ad Selling Point

For most of its rather short life, Twitter Inc. TWTR +0.53% rarely mentioned that its user base is more racially diverse than U.S. Internet users as a whole. Now, as a newly minted public company needing to generate revenue, it is moving to capitalize on its demographics.

n November, Twitter hired marketing veteran Nuria Santamaria to a new position as multicultural strategist, leading its effort to target black, Hispanic and Asian-American users.

Together, those groups account for 41% of Twitter’s 54 million U.S. users, compared with 34% of the users of rival FacebookFB -0.04% and 33% of all U.S. Internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Ms. Santamaria says advertisers want to know more about racial and ethnic minorities on Twitter, from basic numbers to the languages in which they tweet. Last month, Twitter began showing ad agencies data from a coming report saying that Hispanics tweet more often than other users and activity among them rises when the conversation is about technology.

Marla Skiko, executive vice president and director of digital advertising at Starcom Media-vest Group’s multicultural division, says some advertisers are surprised to learn the demographics of Twitter users. She says Ms. Santamaria’s hiring will help Twitter attract advertisers that appeal to racial and ethnic groups. Until now, she says, “there hasn’t been a champion internally.” Starcom Mediavest Group is owned by Publicis Groupe SAPUB.FR +0.52% .

Ms. Santamaria is starting with Hispanics. Twitter’s share of Hispanic users roughly parallels the U.S. online population, but it is a fast-growing, increasingly affluent ethnic group.

Hispanics are also more easily identified because of their language. Twitter doesn’t ask users about race or ethnicity but categorizes them into “interests” based on their tweets and whom they follow. A user who follows a Telemundo show or tweets in Spanish would be considered interested in Hispanic culture even if the user isn’t Hispanic.

 Facebook says its Hispanic users upload more photos and videos, make more comments, and “like” more posts than other users

Other social networks are pursuing similar strategies. Facebook Inc. in November hired an executive from Spanish-language TV network Univision Communications Inc. Facebook is also telling advertisers more details about its 23 million users who have shown an interest in Hispanic culture and making it easier for advertisers to target them. For example, Facebook says its Hispanic users upload more photos and videos, make more comments, and “like” more posts than other users. Hispanics account for 14% of Facebook’s U.S. users, according to Pew, making them the social network’s largest minority group.

Roughly 18% of Twitter’s U.S. users are black, according to Pew

Twitter’s strength is among blacks. Roughly 18% of Twitter’s U.S. users are black, according to Pew. That’s nearly twice the 10% of U.S. Internet users who are black and significantly more than the 11% of Facebook users who are black, Pew says. (Facebook has more black users because it has more than three times as many U.S. users as Twitter.)

Among young adults, the disparity is striking. According to a September Pew survey, 40% of black Internet users aged 18-29 use Twitter, compared with 28% of whites in that age group.


Some advertisers have long taken note. To connect with blacks on social media, “we chose to really what I would say ‘major in Twitter,’ ” says Georgina Flores, director of multicultural marketing at Allstate Corp.ALL -0.42% For a recent campaign called “Give It Up For Good,” part of an ongoing effort to reach black consumers, Allstate created a dedicated Twitter handle and a Twitter-centric website, and it placed advertisements on Twitter. The campaign’s aim is to encourage blacks to share positive and uplifting stories about the community.

Twitter plays a growing role in Home Depot‘s HD -0.67% four-year-old “Retool Your School” campaign, which gives grants to historically black colleges for building or renovation, says Monique Nelson, CEO of UniWorld Group, the creative ad agency for Home Depot’s multicultural advertising. For a recent grant, winners were determined partly by the number of mentions of a school on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. There were 143,000 relevant mentions on Twitter, more than 10 times as many as on Facebook or Instagram.

To generate buzz for the movie “12 Years a Slave,” Cornerstone Agency hosted small screenings to which it invited “influencers” with big Twitter followings, says Jon Cohen, Cornerstone’s co-chief executive. Guests included hip-hop artist and producer Pharrell Williams, who boasts 2.5 million Twitter followers, and Michael Skolnik, the editor in chief of Global Grind, a pop-culture news site.

“The hope was that people see the film and they feel compelled to talk about it, and Twitter is usually that medium, especially among the African-American target” audience, says Mr. Cohen.

Twitter has long been known for its popularity among blacks, giving rise to a cultural phenomenon known as “Black Twitter.” Racially tinged hashtags such as #IfSantaWasBlack and #PaulasBestDishes have risen to the top of Twitter’s trending lists. The latter referred to chef and cookbook-writer Paula Deen‘s admission last June that she had used racist language.


Meredith Clark, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying “Black Twitter,” says blacks flocked to Twitter because it is used primarily on phones, and smartphones are the primary Internet device used by many blacks. She says some young blacks use Twitter in place of text messages, encouraging their friends to join the service as well.

Genie Lauren, a 29-year-old New Yorker who works in higher education, organized a Twitter protest last July against a book planned by a juror in the George Zimmerman trial. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black Florida teenager. The shooting and trial sparked much interest on Twitter, with five million tweets sent in the first 26 hours after the verdict.

Ms. Lauren tweeted the name and contact information of the juror’s book agent and asked her then roughly 2,000 followers to urge the agent to drop the project. She says she chose Twitter because she saw that the Twitter users she follows—three-fourths of whom she estimates are black—were upset by the verdict.

She also says she sensed that the combination of Twitter’s immediacy and the mood among those users could “get a lot of people to behave in one way at a critical time.” The agent dropped the book the next day.


What Pepsi Discovered by Monitoring Millennials During the VMAs

During the VMAs, Facebook was the most popular social media brand, accounting for 41 percent of consumer usage, followed by Twitter with 32 percent.

As a brand that has long had event sponsorship at the heart of its marketing formula, Pepsi sought a more scientific way to study the correlation between TV viewing and second-screen usage during live programming.

So using research methods such as biometrics, the brand looked at consumer behavior during the MTV Video Music Awards telecast this past August—the top-rated entertainment program on cable among viewers aged 12-34 this year, and the most social non-sports TV event.

What emerged were some surprising differences in media usage among millennials. During pivotal moments of the show—like Miley Cyrus’ twerk-tastic duet with Robin Thicke (which generated a record 360,000 tweets per minute)—consumers 18-26 immediately shifted from TV viewing to second screens. Meanwhile, those aged 27-34 stayed with the telecast, waiting to engage in social conversations.

“The younger group already had their hands ready and immediately went to social media to start talking,” said Chad Stubbs, senior director of marketing at PepsiCo.

“The show ebbed and flowed, and a key thing we learned was having a brand message throughout the show was important,” he added. “In the past, maybe we said we would need a big part at the beginning or the end.”

Carolyn Kim, associate director of business intelligence at Pepsi agency OMD, pointed out that while there is not a wide disparity of ages among the millennial set, continual advances in technology have led to behavioral differences among those consumers.

Consider this: When email became widely available in 1993, older millennials were 11 years old—but younger millennials were just 2 years old. “Those younger viewers really grew up more with technology as an ordinary part of their everyday lives,” Kim said.

During the VMAs, Facebook was the most popular social media brand, accounting for 41 percent of consumer usage, followed by Twitter with 32 percent. And while Cyrus’ antics burned up Twitter, performances by Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry had fans taking to Facebook to discuss.

“We know live TV is a place we need to be—it’s still incredible appointment viewing,” he said. “But it’s not enough for an advertiser to show up with a beautiful ad and wait for everyone to come to it.” - Chad Stubbs, senior director of marketing at PepsiCo

Stubbs said he thinks there was a good balance between the brand’s TV and online investment during the VMAs. But he would consider devoting more resources to monitoring social activity. He imagines a focus group that might include a comic, an industry insider, and key millennials and influencers in order to explore ways that the brand might respond to ultimate fans. “We know live TV is a place we need to be—it’s still incredible appointment viewing,” he said. “But it’s not enough for an advertiser to show up with a beautiful ad and wait for everyone to come to it.”


No Guns Allowed Google+ Hangout: How Can Tech End Gun Violence?

Yesterday we posted this devastating PSA from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, calling for viewers to “stand up to ‘stand your ground’ laws” in the twenty-six states where the controversial self-defense laws exist. Today, we have another event from our friends at No Guns Allowed, the campaign against gun violence resulting from the collaboration of Snoop Lion and the League of Young Voters Education Fund. You can watch their Google+ hangout above, where an impressive panel of social activists and tech leaders will discuss how the tech industry, including social media and new media, can help end needless gun violence.
Check out the discussion, and join the conversation in the comments section below or on our Facebook and Twitter.

Move Over Millennials, It’s Time to Talk About Generation Z

The United States Census Bureau recently released a report revealing that for the first time, Caucasians make up less than half of all births in the United States. The unprecedented ethnic diversity of children born around the turn of the new millennium isn’t the only way their generation will create a future dramatically different even from the present that has shaped them. After years of hand-wringing, analysis, and discussion revolving around the Millennials, the conversation is beginning to turn to their successors, children born after 1996, according to some, or simply around the year 2000, according to others. Regardless, the time has come to meet the hazily-defined, little-understood, shakily-named Generation Z.
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Why Doesn’t the Media Get Rachel Jeantel?

If you haven’t heard of Rachel Jeantel, described by many as the prosecution’s star witness in the Trayvon Martin trial and the last person (other than his alleged murderer) to speak to Martin before his death, you must have spent some quality time under a rock the last few days. People have been talking about Jeantel’s testimony on social media since the moment she took the stand, the blogosphere and mainstream media have been analyzing that reaction since last week, and now we’re here with our take on their analysis.
Reaction to the key witness on social media was as divided as it was swift. There was the usual crowd of racists and borderline racists (perhaps there’s some overlap between that reliably vocal group and supporters of defendant George Zimmerman), who attacked Jeantel for everything from her weight to her English to her perceived lack of intelligence. A few days later a cursory Google search for “Rachel Jeantel” yields results as smarmily racist as this…

…and as maliciously tasteless as this. There were plenty of critics in the prosecution’s camp as well, with numerous Tweets expressing concern that Jeantel’s testimony would damage the prosecution’s case or reflect poorly on people of color. On the other side were the young woman’s supporters, those who expressed sympathy for her difficult situation or applauded her for her “authenticity” and bravery. As usual, Internet commentators and the mainstream media were quick to analyze the meaning of all of this analysis and what it says about the state of race relations in America. We think that conversation is as revealing as the one it seeks to understand.
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Fueled by Social Media, Protests in Brazil Reach 200,000 Strong

Some 200,000 protestors have taken to the streets in the major cities of Brazil, in a political movement notable not only for it size but for its engagement with social media. Student protests that began in response to a R$.20 hike in bus fees have now spread across the country, mobilizing unprecedented numbers of protestors. According to Reuters:

As many as 200,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities on Monday in a swelling wave of protest tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, police violence and government corruption.

Although Brazil has seen economic growth in recent years, and unemployment is at an all-time low, experts believe that the protests reflect the discontent of a growing middle class no longer willing to accept government corruption, incompetence, and brutality as the status quo. Many news stories have focused on the size of the protests, noting that this is the largest such movement Brazil has seen in recent memory. Here at MMXLII though, we can’t help but suspect that the sheer number of protestors is causally related to the movement’s extensive engagement with social media. Marches and demonstrations are being organized through social media campaigns and much of the documentation of the movement is happening on social media websites such as Vine and Twitter. The Wall Street Journal reports.

The hashtags #protestorj (the “rj” for Rio de Janeiro), #protestosp (São Paulo) and#protestobrasilia showed the nationwide scope of the demonstrations, which began last week over an unpopular local bus-fare increase.

One of the most viral images was a six-second video posted on Vine by Lucio Amorim, a marketing consultant in Rio, which was tweeted more than 9,000 times.

Even the official response is being broadcast through social media, with President (and former leftist guerilla) Dilma Roussef Tweeting her support for the activists, a story reported on by the Financial Times.

“Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and a part of democracy,” she said on Twitter.

What’s your take on this news from Brazil? How would this story have been different fifteen years ago? Brazil isn’t the first country to undergo such upheaval in the years since the advent of social media – could a movement of this size and strength happen in the United States?

Photo from The Australian.