Twitter’s Former News Manager Talks About His Current Project “Today In #BlackTwitter”

When Mark S. Luckie joined Twitter in 2012, he felt excited by the opportunity to explore the intersection of technology and journalism. Before joining Twitter, Luckie spent his entire career as a traditional journalist, with his last position as national innovations editor at The Washington Post.

“What appealed to me about Twitter was that it’s not just focused on one organization, which gave me a chance to influence many organizations, whether directly or indirectly,” Luckie told TechCrunch. “I was pushing the envelope and seeing what were the bigger and better things Twitter could create, and what were the more interesting ways to tell stories.”

Luckie spent three years at Twitter as manager of journalism and media, where he helped journalists use Twitter and help them better understand how to use it for sourcing. As Twitter’s platform evolved, so did Luckie’s role. It became more of a product management role, where Luckie was tasked with overseeing the building tools and features for Twitter products like TweetDeck, Vine and Periscope that could be helpful to journalists and news organizations. When I asked Luckie about why he eventually left, he cited two main reasons:

“The first was, I saw a lack of diversity and the company’s lack of outreach to black users who are some of the most active users on the platform,” Luckie said. “They make up a huge part of Twitter’s base and I thought to myself that I could be using some of my skills to go beyond newsrooms, and move towards advocating for social justice and bringing to light issues that black people are discussing on the platform.”

The reason I finally left was just because twitter has evolved. It has become very horizontal in nature with a lot of middle managers, and there’s not a lot of room for growth, so if I wanted to move up in the company, I would have to move to another team. I just didn’t really have a lot of options there.

After he left, Luckie was able to dedicate more time to his second book, “Do U.,” a novel about the lives of three students at a historically black college. The novel, which touches on sexuality, individuality and repression, was part of Luckie’s move to becoming more involved with social issues around black people, and spreading the word on those issues. The book came out this past September, and now Luckie is on to his next project: Today in Black Twitter, an online digest featuring the most talked-about news and stories on Black Twitter.

today in black twitter

The idea for Today in #BlackTwitter, which officially launched in October, came from something called BlackWeek, which was Twitter employee resource group Blackbirds’ take on the company’s quarterly Hack Week, Luckie said.

“We were trying to come up with ideas of how to advocate for the black community through Twitter’s technology,” Luckie said. During that conversation, Luckie and other Blackbirds members discussed how there are algorithms within Twitter’s API that could help them “surface exactly who Black Twitter is and what they’re talking about,” Luckie said. “And after I put out the book, I thought, hey, I could actually do this and I think it’d be amazing.”

All of the data and content Luckie incorporates into Today in #BlackTwitter comes from Twitter’s public API.

“The most interesting thing about it (TiBT) is it’s based on public tool,” Luckie said. “Anybody could’ve created this, but nobody has used it in this way up until now, and I think because, quite frankly, because no one cared to do it in that way. So [the public API] really provided an opportunity — a unique space to take Twitter’s technology and move it into some place different that the company wasn’t really using it for.”

Luckie, who spends about two hours a day curating TiBT, created a dashboard for himself that shows the top handles, links and hashtags that people are tweeting within Black Twitter. Building that, Luckie said, was the hardest part. Now, it’s just a matter of him using his journalism skills to figure out what stories are being talked about, and then putting them on Medium.

Yesterday’s digest, for example, touched on Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old shot by Minneapolis police while he was allegedly handcuffed, Gawker’s history with women, and Badlands. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Luckie said. Down the road, he envisions TiBT becoming its own site and bringing on board a couple of people to help curate more content on the site.

So, who makes up Black Twitter?

Even though Luckie is black, is on Twitter, and used to work at Twitter, he said he doesn’t necessarily consider himself part of Black Twitter. That’s because most of the content he tweets isn’t related to the issues that Black Twitter is talking about. He also told me that, based on his data, I am also not part of Black Twitter, even though I’m black and use Twitter.

“You can’t say it’s black people on Twitter because not every black person is tweeting about Black Twitter topics,” Luckie said. “So, the actual definition for Black Twitter is a little bit nebulous. Basically, it’s a network of people that are discussing African-American-related issues, both newsy and fun, and it really sort of runs the gamut depending on the day.”

There are almost 200 people — some with thousands of followers and some with just a couple of hundred — on Luckie’s base list. But Luckie said he’ll likely never share who is on the list.

“The reason why I won’t share is because these people may not identify themselves as part of Black Twitter and I even find Black Twitter putting that label on people, but I don’t feel necessarily comfortable with it,” Luckie said. “The plain and simple truth of it is it does exist and it is worth identifying these conversations because they are heavily influential.”