Remembrance, Resistance, and Resilience

Using social listening to understand memory, action, and strength on #BlackTwitter


Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst


#BlackTwitter Narratives

February 2023 marks the 53rd celebration of Black History Month in the United States. In honor of this, our research team set out to learn more about how Black Americans currently discuss black experience and identity online. In this insight brief, we share a portion of our findings: an analysis of conversations tagged #BlackTwitter that occurred during the weeks leading up to Black History Month (December 2022 - February 2023).

We analyzed millions of posts on Twitter using Narratives, Infegy Atlas’ topic-clustering and dynamic visualization function. While there were several themes within the conversation on #BlackTwitter, here we focus on three major clusters that surfaced in Narratives. We’ll call these themes remembrance, resistance, and resilience.

Conversations under the theme of remembrance memorialized historical injustices like slavery and Jim Crow-era prejudices. The resistance-themed conversations focused on recent and current protests against police brutality and public displays of Confederate symbols. Finally, the resilience-themed posts celebrated blackness, including the accomplishments of black scientists largely unknown to history.

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Figure 1: Narratives view of #BlackTwitter; Infegy Atlas Data.


Slavery, Jim Crow, and the shadow of the Confederacy

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Figure 2: Narratives view of slavery and Jim Crow-related conversation; Infegy Atlas data.

Conversations of remembrance show Black Americans memorializing historic injustices faced by the black community in the United States. Included within this theme, we saw posters discussing contemporary engagements of historical events or individuals. For example, posters frequently discussed the 2022 movie Emancipation starring Will Smith, which is about a slave's escape during the Civil War in Louisiana. We also observed a significant number of posts about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was celebrated during the timeline of our dataset.

Case study: “Emmett Till” in historic data trends 

To delve deeper into how Black Americans remember victims of historical injustices, we zoomed in on the story of Emmett Till. Till was lynched at age 14 after being wrongly accused of flirting with a white woman. We examined the volume of posts about Till over time and found a significant increase of 401% in post volume in the last 16 years. In 2008, there were 84,457 posts about Till, but this number reached a maximum of 1,934,473 posts in 2020. Additionally, public awareness around Till’s murder has expanded so much that Universal Pictures released Till, a biopic about Till’s life. This substantial increase demonstrates a growing awareness and recognition of this past injustice in America.

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Figure 3: 16 year post volume for Emmett Till; Infegy Atlas data.

Recent conversations around Emmett Till

Next, we analyzed the volume of posts about Till over a shorter time frame, from 2020 to 2023.  During these years, the increase in post volume about Emmett Till strongly correlated with posts about Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky resident who was killed during a botched Louisville police raid. A correlation was also evident in an exploration of the #EmmettTill hashtag, where victims of police violence were frequently mentioned along with Till. These two factors suggest that Black activists evoke the memory of Till (and thus, the injustice done to him) when discussing current acts of violence against Black Americans in order to underscore ongoing injustices. Such “co-memorializing” of past and present victims in posts actually melds conversational themes. It points to a form of online expression where remembrance is resistance. 

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Figure 4a: Top Emmett Till-related hashtags; Infegy Atlas data.
Image 4b - Emmett Till Contemp- Post Volume
Figure 4b: 3 year post volume for Emmett Till; Infegy Atlas data.


Black activism and #BlackLivesMatter

Conversations that fell under the theme of resistance focused on current issues facing the black community, as they were discussed on #BlackTwitter. “Resistance” has been designated as the official theme of Black History Month 2023 by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the organization credited with founding the month back in 1926. We saw many issues and acts of resistance addressed online, but here, we will examine two key areas: the effort to remove Confederate monuments and statues in the American South and the Black Lives Matter movement’s efforts to address and stop police violence.

Resistance: the fight to remove Confederate statues

The first form of resistance we examined on #BlackTwitter was the ongoing efforts to eliminate symbols of the Confederate States of America. These statues and monuments are predominantly found in the southern states of the United States.

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Figure 5a: Geographic distribution of Confederate statue-related conversation; Infegy Atlas data.
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Figure 5b: Top hashtags affiliated with Confederate statue-related conversation; Infegy Atlas data.

Data from Infegy Atlas shows a significant increase in negative sentiment towards Confederate monuments over the past 16 years. The average increase in negative sentiment is 92%, indicating that public opinion towards the monuments has shifted to acknowledge that monuments to Civil War leaders and events are indeed symbols of white supremacy, and have no place in a democratic society. The timeline of the sentiment change corresponds to activism over this issue, both online and in the real world.

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Figure 6: Sentiment associated with Confederate statue-related conversation; Infegy Atlas data.

Resistance: Black Lives Matter Movement

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a crucial African American-led social resistance movement that has gained prominence since the 2020s. We used historic social listening post volume data to track the evolution of the movement. The term "Black Lives Matter" was first used in response to the death of Eric Garner, a Black man who was killed by police in Staten Island, New York in 2014. It gained widespread attention and traction after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, leading to a peak in post volume of 60,106,711 posts.

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Figure 7: Black Lives Matter post volume; Infegy Atlas data.

The Black Lives Matter hashtag is not limited to the issue of police brutality toward the Black community. We also observed a strong association between #blm and hashtags celebrating the beauty and accomplishments of being Black (#blackbusiness, #blackisbeautiful, #melaninpoppin, and #blackgirlsrock among others). This intersection of advocacy and celebration in posts is what we identify as “resilience” on #BlackTwitter.

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Figure 8: Top hashtags associated with Black Lives Matter; Infegy Atlas data.


A celebration of Black trailblazers

The final theme of conversation we found on #BlackTwitter is that of resilience. By this, we mean conversations celebrating the perseverance and strength of Black people. Posts about Valerie Thomas, a pioneering African American NASA engineer and scientist gained traction during the period of our analysis. Thomas was a leader in the development of the Landsat satellite imagery project, as well as programs that used satellite imagery to predict crop yields. She is also credited with inventing 3D movies and laying the foundation for the modern internet.

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Figure 9a: Top topics associated with Valerie Thomas-related conversation; Infegy Atlas data.
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Figure 9b: A portrait of Valerie Thomas; NASA photo.

Black women scientists in American consciousness

A spike in post volume of Black female scientists pointed to an increase in public awareness about these women. Looking back on 10 years of social data, we saw the uptrend beginning after the release of the 2016 movie, Hidden Figures (which brought attention to Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan). We also noted growth in discussions about Alice Ball, a chemist who developed an effective treatment for leprosy, and Patricia Bath, an eye surgeon who led the development of a novel cataract treatment.

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Figure 10: Post volume of other prominent Black women scientists; Infegy Atlas data.


Social listening analysis of #BlackTwitter leading up to, and during Black History Month 2023 showed that the conversation fell under three key themes: remembrance, resistance, and resilience. These three themes further shaped granular analyses, each of which demonstrated that Black activism and celebrations of blackness online are on the uptrend. On the whole, the study provided insight into how Black identity is expressed online. It also highlighted the importance of #BlackTwitter in preserving the historical record of online expressions of Black identity and activism.

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