When a Florida jury convicted Michael Dunn of attempted murder, but not actual murder, in the shooting death of black teenager Jordan Davis, the hashtag #dangerousblackchildren popped up on Twitter. Users posted photos of black babies and toddlers, spoofing the fear that Dunn testified he felt before opening fire on a carful of teens at a convenience store.
That hashtag was the calling card of Black Twitter, a small corner of the social media giant where an unabashedly black spin on life gets served up in 140-character installments.
Black Twitter holds court on pretty much everything from President Barack Obama to the latest TV reality show antics. But Black Twitter can also turn activist quickly. When it does, things happen — like the cancellation of a book deal for a juror in the George Zimmerman trial, or the demise of Zimmerman's subsequent attempt to star at celebrity boxing.
Catchy hashtags are a hallmark and give clues that the tweeting in question is a Black Twitter thing.
"It's kind of like the black table in the lunchroom, sort of, where people with like interests and experiences, and ways of talking and communication, lump together and talk among themselves," said Tracy Clayton, a blogger and editor at Buzzfeed known on Twitter as @brokeymcpoverty.
Black Twitter is not a special website or a smartphone app. The hashtag #blacktwitter itself won't necessarily lead you to it. It doesn't exactly stick out among the trending topics on Twitter, even though it's been known to cause a topic or two to trend. It is not exclusively black — there are blacks who don't participate in it, and people of other races who do.
"Black Twitter brings the fullness of black humanity into the social network and that is why it has become so fascinating," said Kimberly C. Ellis, who has a doctorate in American and Africana Studies, tweets as @drgoddess and is studying Black Twitter for her upcoming book, "The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter."
According to a Pew Research Center report, while similar numbers of blacks and whites use the Internet — 80 percent and 87 percent, respectively — 22 percent of those blacks who were online used Twitter in 2013, compared with 16 percent of online whites.
Meredith Clark, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is writing her dissertation on Black Twitter, likened it to "Freedom's Journal," the first African-American newspaper in the United States. On that publication's first front page in 1827, it declared: "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us."
"If you are from a particularly marginalized community or one where others have spoken for you, but you have not had the agency to really speak for yourself or make your truth known, then it is absolutely necessary that in any instance you can take on that agency that you do so," said Clark, who tweets from @meredithclark. "And so that is what you see happening in Black Twitter."
Mainstream U.S. media first took serious notice of Black Twitter last year, when it abruptly rose up to scuttle a book deal for a juror in the trial of Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. That was the first time that blacks used Twitter "in a very powerful and political way," said Houston black social media consultant Crystal Washington.
Most recently, Black Twitter reared its head through hashtags like #stopthefight, to protest a proposed celebrity boxing match supposedly between Zimmerman and rapper DMX. The promoter quickly canceled after a flood of Twitter complaints.
Such death-by-Twitter activism could very well be the harbinger of a new civil rights strategy, Ellis said. She noted that a short amount of time elapsed between the moment Black Twitter noticed the juror's book deal and the moment it was called off. The same was true of the Zimmerman boxing match.
"Ask the NAACP how long it would have taken had that been one of their initiatives," Ellis said.
The NAACP employed the hashtag #TooMuchDoubt for its unsuccessful attempt to halt the execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, and the hashtag #OscarGrant on tweets about its activism over the police killing of black teenager Oscar Grant, whose life was later documented in the movie "Fruitvale Station."
"We realized more than anyone that we had to go in that direction and we've done it," NAACP interim President Lorraine Miller said of the NAACP's social media use during a recent appearance on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.
Black Twitter also helped to fuel objections last year over Reebok's relationship with rapper Rick Ross, whose lyrics were being criticized as pro-rape. Ross had appeared in an ad for the Reebok Classic sneakers. He tweeted an apology before issuing a formal statement again apologizing. Once protesters showed up outside a Reebok store in New York, Reebok nixed the deal.
Also last year, Black Twitter set its sights on BuzzFeed, a news site that uses technological feedback to tailor content. No sooner than BuzzFeed posted an article about Black Twitter following Zimmerman's trial, tweeters began dreaming up BuzzFeed-type lists with a black twist to them. The hashtag #BlackBuzzFeed trended worldwide.
"Black Twitter made this the No. 2 hashtag worldwide. Our wig has thoroughly been snatched. (asterisk)Bows down(asterisk)" BuzzFeed acknowledged.
Black Twitter arguably had its biggest field day last year with embattled celebrity cook Paula Deen, whose admission that she used racial slurs in the past inspired the #paulasbestdishes hashtag, featuring recipe titles such as "Massa-Roni and Cheese" and "We Shall Over-Crumb Cake."
Washington said Black Twitter's playful take on the Deen controversy may have been a dry run to the Zimmerman juror takedown.
"I'm not sure that Twitter users, especially African-Americans, would have zeroed in on the juror's book deal had it not been for the aftermath of #paulasbestdishes just weeks before," Washington said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — With just three weeks left to sign up under President Barack Obama's health care law, a major survey tracking the rollout finds that the uninsured rate keeps going down.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released Monday, found that 15.9 percent of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months — or calendar quarter— of 2013.
That translates roughly to 3 million to 4 million people getting coverage.
Gallup said the share of Americans who lack coverage is on track to drop to the lowest quarterly level it measured since 2008, before Obama took office.
The survey found that almost every major demographic group made progress getting health insurance, although Hispanics lagged.
With the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group, Latinos were expected to be major beneficiaries of the new health care law. They are a relatively young population and many are on the lower rungs of the middle class, holding down jobs that don't come with health insurance.
But the outreach effort to Hispanics got off to a stumbling start. The Spanish-language enrollment website, CuidadodeSalud.gov, was delayed due to technical problems. Its name sounds like a clunky translation from English: "Care of Health." A spot check of the Spanish site on Sunday showed parts of it still use a mix of Spanish and English to convey information, which can make insurance details even more confusing.
All indications point to lackluster Latino numbers, prompting the administration to make a special pitch as the end of open enrollment season approaches on March 31. The president was on Spanish-language television networks last week to raise awareness.
Gallup found the biggest drop in the uninsured rate was among households making less than $36,000 a year — a decline of 2.8 percentage points.
Among blacks, the uninsured rate was down by 2.6 percentage points. It declined by 1 percentage point among whites. But Latinos saw a drop of just eight-tenths of a percentage point.
The Gallup poll is considered authoritative because it combines the scope and depth found in government surveys with the timeliness of media sampling. Pollsters interview 500 people a day, 350 days a year. The latest health care results were based on more than 28,000 interviews, or about 28 times as many as in a standard national poll.
The survey can be an early indicator of broad shifts in society. Gallup saw a modest decline in the uninsured rate in January, and now two full months of data indicate a trend is taking shape.
Gallup said the drop coincides with the start of coverage under the health care law on Jan. 1. The major elements of the Affordable Care Act are now in effect. Virtually all Americans are now required to get covered or risk fines. Insurers can no longer turn away people with health problems. New state-based markets are offering taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to middle-class households.
Medicaid rolls are also growing, with about half the states agreeing to the program expansion in the law. Low-income people who qualify for Medicaid are able to sign up year-round, so the uninsured rate may keep going down even after the end of open enrollment for private coverage.
The administration is citing numbers that are far higher: about 4 million people signing up for private coverage, and 9 million for Medicaid.
But those statistics also include people who already had health insurance and switched to coverage offered under the law. The government numbers also include children, while Gallup focuses on adults.
The survey was based on telephone interviews from Jan. 2-Feb. 28 with a random sample of 28,396 adults aged 18 and older in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total national sample, the margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point, larger for subgroups.
PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) — Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand about two men who boarded the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane with stolen passports, part of a growing international investigation into what they were doing on the flight.
Nearly three days after the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, no debris has been seen in Southeast Asian waters.
Five passengers who checked in for Flight MH370 didn't board the plane, and their luggage was removed from it, Malaysian authorities said. Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this also was being investigated, but he didn't say whether this was suspicious.
The search effort, involving at least 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries, was being widened to a 100-nautical mile (115-mile, 185-kilometer) radius from the point the plane vanished from radar screens between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday with no distress signal.
Two of the passengers were traveling on passports stolen in Thailand and had onward tickets to Europe, but it's not known whether the two men had anything to do with the plane's disappearance. Criminals and illegal migrants regularly travel on fake or stolen documents.
Hishammuddin said biometric information and CCTV footage of the men has been shared with Chinese and U.S. intelligence agencies, who were helping the investigation. Almost two-thirds of the passengers on the flight were from China.
The stolen passports, one belonging to Christian Kozel of Austria and the other to Luigi Maraldi of Italy, were entered into Interpol's database after they were taken in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, the police organization said.
Electronic booking records show that one-way tickets with those names were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of Pattaya in eastern Thailand. Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said those reservations were placed with the agency by a second travel agency in Pattaya, Grand Horizon.
Thai police and Interpol officers questioned the owners. Officials at Grand Horizon refused to talk to The Associated Press.
Police Lt. Col. Ratchthapong Tia-sood said the travel agency was contacted by an Iranian man known only as "Mr. Ali" to book the tickets for the two men.
"We have to look further into this Mr. Ali's identity because it's almost a tradition to use an alias when doing business around here," he said.
The travel agency's owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, told The Financial Times she believed Mr. Ali was not connected to terrorism because he had asked for cheapest tickets to Europe and did not specify the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight.
Malaysia's police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the two men had been identified — something that could speed up the investigation.
Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman declined to confirm this, but said they were of "non-Asian" appearance, adding that authorities were looking at the possibility the men were connected to a stolen passport syndicate.
Asked by a reporter what they looked like, he said: "Do you know of a footballer by the name of (Mario) Balotelli? He is an Italian. Do you know how he looks like?" A reporter then asked, "Is he black?" and the aviation chief replied, "Yes."
Possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide, according to experts, many of whom cautioned against speculation because so little is known.
On Sunday, a Vietnamese plane spotted a rectangular object that was thought to be one of the plane's doors, but ships could not locate it. On Monday, a Singaporean search plane spotted a yellow object 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tho Chu island, but it turned out to be sea trash.
Malaysian maritime officials found oil slicks in the South China Sea, but lab tests found that samples of it were not from an aircraft, Azharuddin said.
Selamat Omar, a Malaysian whose 29-year-old son Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat was a passenger on the flight, told of getting a call from the airline saying the plane was missing.
"We accept God's will," Selamat said. "Whether he is found alive or dead, we surrender to Allah."
Gomez reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Gillian Wong and Louise Watt in Beijing, Joan Lowy in Washington and Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Senate candidates, facing withering criticism on the national health care law, are gambling they can turn voters against two billionaire brothers funding the attacks — even if few Americans would recognize the pair on the street.
In an accelerating counteroffensive stretching from the Senate chamber to Alaska, Democrats are denouncing Charles and David Koch, the key figures behind millions of dollars in conservative TV ads hammering Democratic candidates and their ties to President Barack Obama.
Democrats depict the Kansas-based Koch (pronounced "Coke") brothers as self-serving oil barons who pay huge sums to try to "buy" elections and advance their agenda of low taxes and less regulation. And they're using unusually harsh language in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Koch-financed ads against Democrats and the health care law contain lies "made up from whole cloth."
"I guess if you make that much money, you can make these immoral decisions," Reid, D-Nev., said in a recent Senate speech. "The Koch brothers are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine."
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas defended the Kochs and compared Reid's remarks to the communist-baiting tactics of Joseph McCarthy.
The Democrats' strategy depends on persuading enough Americans that the Koch brothers, who rarely appear in public, are so significant and troubling that voters should reject the Republican candidates benefiting from their ads.
"When you connect the dots for the people," said Democratic adviser Chris Lehane, "the light bulb comes on."
In a time of stagnant working-class wages, they note, the Kochs have grown stupendously wealthy while pushing their conservative-to-libertarian causes. Forbes magazine ranks the brothers as tied for sixth among the world's richest people, worth $40 billion each.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin says Americans, when given this basic information, believe the brothers are trying to elect a government that helps them at the expense of less wealthy people, who would fare better under Democratic policies.
"The polling we've done shows very clearly that people think these unlimited expenditures don't have anything to do with free speech and have everything to do with skewing what goes on with American government and American politics," said Garin, who advises Reid. To see the Kochs spend millions to try to privatize Social Security, reduce taxes on oil or "undermine environmental regulations is troubling to voters," he said.
Nonsense, Republicans say. "I can't imagine that's an effective tool," said Moran, who chairs the Senate Republicans' campaign committee.
In North Carolina — where Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is enduring an avalanche of Koch-related ads denouncing her support of Obama's health policies_attacks on the Koch brothers will simply draw more attention to their message, said the state's other senator, Republican Richard Burr.
"I don't think there's any resentment to a group or individual spending their money to tell people what's really going on," Burr said.
Charles Koch, 78, and David Koch, 73, inherited a small oil company from their father. They expanded worldwide into chemicals, textiles, paper and other products, building a hugely profitable and privately held conglomerate.
Long active in conservative politics, they seized on the 2010 Citizens United court ruling that allows unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, often without disclosing donors. They helped found Americans for Prosperity, which reported spending $122 million on elections in 2012.
With this year's election still eight months away, the Koch network already has spent $15 million on Senate races, mostly attacking Democrats over Obamacare. Republicans need to gain six seats to control the 100-member Senate.
Republicans note that liberal billionaires also spend heavily on politics. They point to environmentalist and hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, who says he will spend at least $100 million on congressional and gubernatorial elections this year.
But Steyer is still examining the field, months after Koch-funded ads began pounding Democrats like Hagan. And Democrats say Steyer will not benefit financially by pushing his climate change agenda, whereas the Kochs' campaign for lower taxes and less regulation would help big businesses like theirs.
Reid, who admits he's no gifted orator, is leading the chorus with bombasts from the Senate chamber.
"Think about what an America rigged by the Koch brothers would look like," he said in one recent speech. "The Koch brothers don't care about creating a strong public education system in America," Reid said, nor a "strong safety net of Medicare and Social Security" or "a guarantee of affordable, quality health insurance for every American. Why? Because the Koch brothers can afford to buy all those benefits and more for themselves."
Reid told reporters: "I'm going to keep talking about them every chance I get because America should not be for sale."
Democratic candidates nationwide are picking up the theme, said Matt Canter of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign committee.
"We've done extensive polling on this," Canter said. "Voters understand that Republicans are pushing a policy agenda that is good for their benefactors, the Koch brothers."
"The message we've tested does not rest on them knowing who Charles and David Koch are," Canter said.
In state after state, Democrats are berating the Kochs in speeches and fundraising appeals.
"To overcome Charles and David Koch's shadowy, fear-mongering TV ads, we have to work harder and be smarter," says a fundraising letter for Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Koch industries spokesman Steve Lombardo defended the ads. He said, "it is unfortunate that Harry Reid is focused on attacking citizens of the United States rather than the problems facing this country." He said Koch companies employ more than 60,000 Americans.
"I think the American people are smart and will see through this tactic," Lombardo said.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Influential District of Columbia businessman Jeffrey Thompson was charged Monday with conspiring to violate federal and local campaign finance laws by funding off-the-books campaign activity for candidates including Hillary Rodham Clinton and district Mayor Vincent Gray.
Thompson, the multimillionaire former owner of a well-connected accounting firm, was charged in a criminal information, a charging document that can only be filed with the defendant's consent and typically signals a guilty plea. A court appearance was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
According to the document, Thompson funded illicit campaign activity for Clinton, Gray and seven other candidates for local office in the district. All told, the efforts, described previously by prosecutors as "shadow campaigns," were valued at more than $2 million.
Prosecutors also said Thompson exceeded contribution limits by using straw donors and funneling money from his corporation through intermediaries. Thompson contributed more than $500,000 to local candidates and more than $250,000 to federal candidates and political-action committees over a six-year period, according to the 10-page document.
Thompson, 58, had long been suspected of giving money to Gray's 2010 campaign to fund get-out-the vote and other efforts, and the document put the value of the shadow campaign at $668,000. He was also charged with pouring $608,750 into Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. The efforts to help Clinton were detailed in a previous case against a Thompson associate.
The charges against Thompson come three weeks before the district's Democratic mayoral primary, in which Gray is seeking re-election against seven challengers, some of whom have pointed to the mayor's association with Thompson as a sign that he is unfit for office.
Gray has denied all wrongdoing but has not answered specific questions about his knowledge of Thompson's activities. Chuck Thies, Gray's campaign manager, said in a statement Monday that the document did not implicate Gray.
"No one has suggested that Hillary Clinton knew of Thompson's illegal activities. Mayor Gray has not been afforded the same presumption of innocence," Thies said. "We urge the media to be cautions when reporting the facts of this case."
The document details shadow campaigns for eight candidates for office in the district, with a total value of nearly $1.5 million. The most recent race Thompson sought to influence, the document shows, was a race for an at-large council seat in 2011, which Vincent Orange won with support from Thompson's network of donors. Orange, who has acknowledged handing over documents related to his 2011 campaign to federal investigators, is also running for mayor this year. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but he has previously denied all wrongdoing.
Thompson also ran a $278,000 shadow effort for a mayoral candidate in 2006, the document shows. Adrian Fenty defeated Linda Cropp in that year's mayoral primary, and Cropp received contributions that year from Thompson and his associates.
Federal authorities searched Thompson's home and offices two years ago. Since then, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen has built a case against Thompson by targeting his associates, five of whom have pleaded guilty to felonies.
Two close friends of Gray who worked on his 2010 campaign were among those who pleaded guilty. Two others pleaded guilty to making straw contributions to political candidates on his behalf, and another acknowledged using illicit funds to help Clinton's presidential bid in Texas and other primary states. The cases outlined Thompson's extensive financial backing of his favored candidates for federal, state and local office.
Thompson would tap into a vast network of donors, including employees, business associates, friends and relatives, many of whom would make large donations to his chosen candidates on the same day, campaign finance records show. After the allegations surfaced, several candidates donated the amount they received from Thompson to charity.
Thompson, a Jamaican immigrant, founded an African-American-owned accounting firm that received millions of dollars in local and federal government contracts. He was also the sole owner of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a managed-care provider for district residents that had the single largest contract in city government, worth more than $300 million annually. The managed-care firm went bankrupt amid the investigation, and Thompson left the accounting firm.
Federal prosecutors were looking at possible links between Thompson's support for Gray and a settlement that his health care company received after Gray took office. Administration officials strongly denied any wrongdoing related to the settlement, which was approved by the D.C. Council.