My annual MLK Internet tradition: Spiritual Death and Twitter


Two years ago, YouTube's News & Politics channel sponsored a program encouraging people to read passages from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. I chose a passage from his "Beyond Vietnam" speech on budget/defense priorities and "spiritual death" and recorded the video at a parking lot in Pittsburgh, PA.

In the same year, Vanity Fair commissioned me to write this piece. It ranks high among the work I'm most proud of across my entire life: What Would MLK Make Of Twitter? 

At this time every year, commentators across the United States engage in an exercise I’ll call Hypothetical King, in which we try to imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say about the war in Afghanistan, the bank bailouts, or Mo’Nique winning best supporting actress for Precious at the Golden Globes. We extrapolate from his words and deeds and hope we’re right but can never be sure.

I’d like to engage in an exercise that’s almost the reverse of that. Instead of imagining Hypothetical King in 2010, I’m imagining a world in which today’s tools exist in King’s day. Specifically, I want to know what Dr. King would make of Twitter, the insistent social-media service that asks its users to describe “What’s happening?” in 140 characters or less.