So, I've been following the snark that occurred when a wannabe anthropologist at Slate wrote How Black People Use Twitter - The latest research on race and microblogging. It, and the jingoistic graphic that went with it, spawned the cute and snarky hashtag #browntwitterbird. @InnyVinny posted a fantastic mixup of graphics and pointed snark, and requests for variations started pouring in. Then other bit-whackers started contributing art.
What almost, but fortunately not completely, gets lost in the flush of adorable icons is this craptastic tendency of so-called journalists to make sweeping generalizations about ethnic and social groups. Saying things akin to "Black people link to each other and talk dirty late at (US) night" is like saying "White people go to John Birch meetings on Fridays and church on Sunday". In both cases, not the case. Sure, you didn't say "all", but it's implied that you're talking about the majority in your generalization. Unless you have the statistics, preferably a supermajority to back it up, don't go there.
The "researcher" in the Slate piece looked at a subgroup of young, urban, American, mostly black youth who were interlinked. They mostly used phone text apps to twitter from. Well, folks, I can explain the night thing right there - nights are cheaper on most phone plans - as in "unlimited night and weekends". That plus working during the day, and it's not a mystery, or even a social phenomenon. Younger people tend to be "connected" electronically in the US - there are plenty of articles out there bemoaning the fact that "too many" kids have expensive cell phones. He generalized this subgroup to be "Black People" - as in "most black people", by inference. Ummm, no.
Then this person comes up with the term "blacktags". I cringed. Tell me, are there corresponding whitetags, yellowtags and redtags? How about "turbantags"? Shall we get really jingoistic here? I guess I should be glad he didn't call them "n*****tags" - but that would take Dr. Laura, I suppose.
He points out that these late night tags chatty tags tend to trend. Well duh. Most of the chatty cathys of the daytime are gone for the night, asleep like responsible adults. The tweets are from an interconnected group that does a lot of retweeting and repeating their own tweets - like most youth, vying for attention among their peers, having fun. So they trend. BFD. I've been awake late nights, and followed some of what might have been subjects of his "research". Some of them I had to muffle my laughter in a pillow to avoid waking up my roomies, they were so funny, especially in context.
He quotes a few black guys as some sort of representatives, and they all basically blow holes in his thesis. I guess this is his throwing a sop to the other side of the conversation. But he never really goes back and corrects his original hypothesis.
If he'd said "Young Blacks", I might have had slightly less problem - because that was actually the demographic he was looking at. Still, the article had no point to be written - other than sensationalism, and pseudoanthropologic voyeurism.
See, social clusters happen in social media. Cliques are as old as society itself. They are just bigger online. Political wonks have theirs, SF&F fans have theirs, soap fans have theirs, sports addicts have theirs, etc. But jackasses don't post "How White People Use Twitter" and then claim that all of them follow hashtags like #lost, #idol, and #baseball. They restrict that stupidity to talking about black people. Not even asians or hispanics get the treatment.
Then there's one final thing: The only way you know, on the net, what race, culture/subculture, country, gender, gender identification, political affiliation, sexual preference, etc that a person has is if they tell you, or otherwise let slip. Even icons that are pictures can lie - what if they use their favorite celebrity? On Twitter, if you don't put a lot of detail in your bio, or give a separate website (like this one), no one knows that you're really a housecat named Speckles. Really.
Edit: An new hashtag in the mix #NotAllBlackPeople - a fun read, again kicking over and poking fun at stereotypes. Take that, Dr Laura "BigotBrain"!
The upshot? Watch your generalizations, they can bite you in the ass!