By Community Affairs Reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Recent racially charged controversies — like the Trayvon Martin case — have galvanized the community, and a big part of the conversation is online.

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When George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, social media sites exploded with activity. The same happened when deposition transcripts from a race discrimination case against Food Network’s Paul Deen hit the Internet. A big part of the conversation and influence came from a cultural movement called “Black Twitter.”

“Black Twitter is a lazy shorthand for the way Black people use Twitter,” says Maya Francis, a local writer and communications strategist who has authored articles on the phenomenon. She says “Black Twitter” pulls the curtain back on once private conversations between African Americans, but it also is a tool for activism that is proving to be a powerful force for change.

“Black Twitter has the power to dismantle brands,” she says, “and Paula Deen was an example of that. From a brand perspective, black people hold so much power as consumers that you can’t ignore ignore it.”

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Francis says “Black Twitter” is also rumored to have destroyed a potential book deal for former George Zimmerman trial juror B-37.

“Twitter itself as we’ve seen in other places like in Egypt, definitely can be a big change agent,” says Francis. “And I think it’s important to remember that works here too. Initially, Zimmerman wasn’t even going to be brought to trial. But there was such a dust up of concern and fear and anger, and much of that took place on Twitter by giving people who usually don’t have a voice a way to be heard.”

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly a one-third of all African Americans are on Twitter.

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