Social media is having a crisis of identity. In the 15 months since a change of ownership rocked the foundation of Twitter—now confusingly rebranded X—competitors have scrambled to rekindle the allure and influence of the platform that first reshaped, then defined, and eventually dominated the online social universe of the 2010s. Almost all have failed, and the reason is simple: None of them are Twitter.
“I’ve told myself several times that I would get off Twitter, but 15 years later, and I’m still on the app,” says Kary Jackson, who joined the platform in 2009 after a friend created an account for him. “I was sitting in one of my marketing classes in undergrad, and I got this BBM [BlackBerry Messenger message] from my best friend. Not knowing who or what Twitter was, I logged in. My very first tweet was ‘How do you use this?’”
Like most users, Jackson quickly adapted to its rhythms, and found camaraderie among like-minded Black users, many of whom were forging what would soon be known as Black Twitter, the platform’s creative and cultural engine. What originally fascinated Jackson about the service—live-tweeting, bonding over shared experiences, and the audacious honesty of its users, several of whom were experimenting with new codes of expression—is also what has kept him on the platform as continued changes, from an increase in ads to the delegitimization of news, have soured its utility under the ownership of Elon Musk. “As insufferable as Twitter has become, it’s still very important,” he says. “When major events happen, whether it’s dealing with our nation, or even pop culture, Twitter is always my go-to source for real-time updates.”
Jackson isn’t alone. The reported brain drain of users has seemed to have minimal consequence on the boulevard of Black Twitter, where first-wave users share a sense of ownership over the platform. “I’m not letting no white man run me off this app. We built this shit, brick by brick,” user @fabfreshandfly tweeted recently.
“X’s user base and monthly visits have declined somewhat since the takeover, but the magnitude of those declines has been moderate,” says Deen Freelon, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in computational social science. “Some evidence suggests that the declines are mostly due to fewer new users joining the platform as opposed to longtime users abandoning it. X still seems to have quite a vibrant Black community, and I can’t say I’ve noticed fundamental shifts in its collective behavior.”
Fundamental shifts—no. What has occurred, instead, is a renewed emphasis on creating spaces of mundane connection within the platform’s increasingly disordered ecosystem. “We are still here, thriving through the apocalypse by supporting each other and laughing at nonsense,” user @PaperWhispers tweeted last week.
Alterations to the algorithm and a laissez-faire approach to moderation have lent X an air of sustained mayhem. Black Twitter, though, is unbothered. Many users have doubled down on nourishing spaces of enjoyment amid the lawlessness happening across the timeline. “I still look forward to live-tweeting my weekly shows, live-tweeting award ceremonies, and engaging with my mutuals,” says Jackson, who lives in Houston and works in human resources. More recently, he’s noticed that there are moments when Black Twitter feels reminiscent of simpler times. “Black Twitter is gatekeeping harder than ever, which I love. There’s a certain sector that does not allow Black Twitter to be infiltrated. I absolutely love when outsiders get whacked over the head, and everyone else just follows suit. We really are like a family.”