Writer Stacia L. Brown had composed countless essays and blog posts before Twitter came around. But she has tweets, not only her English degree or resume, to thank for ushering her work onto a national stage.
Brown, who was born in Michigan and grew up in Baltimore County, formed an online community for single mothers of color, Beyond Baby Mamas, three years ago. After spotting the site’s Twitter account, an editor at The Atlantic reached out to have Brown write a piece about single motherhood.
“As far as national outlets, that was probably my big break, and it originated because of tweets,” Brown said.
Beyond Baby Mamas continues to publish think pieces and personal narratives; in addition to the site, Brown, a full-time freelance writer and Pikesville resident, also maintains a robust personal Twitter account, with more than 7,800 followers. The 35-year-old has emerged as a local voice on issues such as race, feminism, motherhood and pop culture.
She also has come to rely on Twitter for following breaking news, conducting research and mining sources. Though she is not a Baltimore-centric writer, Brown sometimes is asked to write about the city and uses Twitter to follow its key players.
“I do get ideas from Twitter a lot, and I’m not really sure when that started, but it’s sort of a relationship that you build between editors that follow you and read your tweets,” she said.
One such idea took the form recently of a piece by Brown titled "Why I Facebook Stalk Dead Black Teenagers," published on Buzzfeed Ideas. The story was inspired by a tweet of hers a few days earlier: “These kids are writing their own obituaries every day in 140 characters or less.They're leaving us their last words via Snapchat,Tumblr,Vine”
Twitter also has proven an effective editing tool for Brown; when Facebook was Brown’s social network of choice, her favorite feature was the status update function, and Twitter helped her distill those observations to 140 characters.
“Twitter challenges you to condense your message, and that’s something that I need as an essayist -- the ability to make a point in a short space,” Brown said.
That Buzzfeed piece reflects a focus of much of Brown’s personal and academic interest; she often shares stories of racial discrimination and of the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. She remembers seeing photos on Twitter of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. last year, before news outlets had picked them up. As images taken by people on the scene only an hour or two after his death surfaced, Twitter offered a communal sense of “Are you seeing this?” in the absence of sharing in person what would become a historical moment, Brown said.
“I was glued to that after it happened and so many people were,” Brown said. “One of the best things about [Twitter] is the immediacy of it and the feeling of connection you have with somebody when a really serious news story is breaking.”
Brown has written about the black Twitter community, but said she can’t speak to the social medium’s role in Baltimore or for the city’s black residents. It is apparent, however, that Instagram and Twitter are essential in the lives of the city’s young citizens, made evident by events surrounding city unrest around the death of Freddie Gray, Brown said.
During that time, social media rumors circulated of a “purge” at Mondawmin Mall, police said – and amid confusion about unfolding events and conflicting reports, Twitter offered a helpful way to contrast the messaging of residents and officials, Brown said.
“Certainly Instagram and Twitter are really important to young Baltimoreans,” she said. “Voices that would have not been heard or amplified anyway were heard because of Twitter.”
Twitter also helps the busy single mom keep in touch with old friends, many of whom she’s made online in the past 15 years. Working freelance from home, luckily, offers plenty of time to keep up with the world from behind the screen – and to live tweet the occasional awards show.
“I think that’s a really wonderful thing to be able to access at home,” Brown said.
"The 410 in 140" puts the spotlight on prominent Baltimore Twitter personalities. If you have a suggestion of someone to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the first installments, with @dennisthecynic and @paulmgardner.