A Georgia Tech professor was featured in Hulu’s Black Twitter: A People’s History

Associate professor André Brock, Jr., an expert in the Hulu documentary, talks to us about Atlanta's presence on the platform formerly known as Twitter

A Georgia Tech professor was featured in the Hulu’s Black Twitter: A People’s History
Dr. André Brock, Jr. appears in Black Twitter: A People’s History

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

As many of us know, the slogan “Atlanta Influences Everything” is not just wishful thinking. There’s a reason why this city became known as Wakanda. So naturally one would expect the three-part docuseries Black Twitter: A People’s History to have ample references and vocal representation from Atlanta. Ironically, while in Atlanta to promote Black Twitter, Prentice Penny, who steered the latest Hulu project from Onyx Collective (Disney’s production venture amplifying voices of color), blamed Atlanta’s notable absence in the documentary on budgetary constraints. Those constraints, he shared, forced them to shoot in Los Angeles and New York.

“It would have been great; I would have loved it,” said Penny of putting a huge spotlight on Atlanta’s relationship with Black Twitter. “But you can’t always execute all that in the way that you would like.”

They wanted to scale the conversation big beyond regionalism, Penny said. So the series reminisces on such big moments as reactions to Barack Obama’s historic election, Black citizen journalism in Ferguson, Missouri, and the backstories behind some of the culture’s biggest memes such as the squinting woman, as well as monumental hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic. The series is filled with jest. Guests include former ESPN analyst Jemele Hill, one-time TMZ staffer Van Lathan, comedian W. Kamau Bell, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery, and bestselling author Roxane Gay, among many others. Penny, himself, is no stranger to Black Twitter and became a prominent voice on the platform as the showrunner of Issa Rae’s star-making HBO series Insecure, which premiered in 2016.

But it’s hard to keep a good city down. So enter Georgia Tech associate professor Dr. André Brock, Jr., who serves as one of the main experts providing valuable historic context about the digital platform now owned by billionaire Elon Musk, who rebranded the app as X last year. Prior to landing at Georgia Tech in 2018, Brock, known on the platform as @DocDre, attended City College in New York City, then studied and taught in the Midwest. Author of the award-winning book Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures, Brock was also featured in the original 2021 article that inspired the docuseries, “A People’s History of Black Twitter,” written by Wired staffer Jason Parham, who is also a producer on the series.

Atlanta magazine caught up with Brock—who teaches Social Media, AI and Society, as well as Science and Technology Studies at Georgia Tech—during a Black Twitter promotional event atop the roof of the Hotel Clermont to ask about Atlanta Twitter and learn more about his work. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

How has Atlanta contributed to Black Twitter?
I see a lot of Atlanta in Twitter. . . I think especially in the last six or seven years, Southern culture has been much more vocal about its musical contributions. And that musical contribution has made its way online. So, prior to Twitter, a lot of the way people would discover music was [via] Napster and Limewire, but also [through] a lot of blogs. And there were a number of blogs that came out of Southern spaces.

But [Atlanta] is continually reinventing itself, and you can see this in music. Even with stuff that is crazy like Young Thug [one of the defendants in the ongoing YSL RICO trial], it’s so clear that Atlanta still has an influence on music, culture, strip club culture, and a lot of those things make their way to Twitter in ways that I find really interesting. I think it brings a lot of life to us.

How did you end up studying Twitter and Black digital history?
As you can see from the documentary, I’ve been a nerd all my life. And when I got to graduate school at [the University of Illinois in] Champaign, they were telling me I couldn’t talk about Black people unless I was only talking about poor Black people, because Black people didn’t have access to the Internet. I’m like, that doesn’t make sense, so everything I’ve written since then has been showing that either we’ve been there before or our presence brought something transformative to it.

I first wrote about Twitter in 2012. I wrote a book about it that came out in 2020 [titled] Distributed Blackness. But my focus has been to talk about Black life. My friend Sophia Noble, she writes about algorithms of repression, and we need to know what these technologies are doing to us, but I feel like we should also talk about the things that technologists do that allow us to celebrate ourselves, [like] the #ThanksgivingClapback [a legendary Twitter moment covered in Black Twitter about hilarious responses and ways to cope with family during the holiday].

What’s your next book about?
The next book is making the argument that the pandemic showed us something about Black Twitter that demonstrated it could be a mode of Black life. I’m deliberately thinking about the Verzuz battles, D-Nice [and Club Quarantine], but also the ways that we made fun of things that were going on during the pandemic in ways that provided us resources to make it even as folks were dropping dead.

Black Twitter: A People’s History is currently streaming on Hulu.