Tech’s Whiteness Is the Problem. Are We the Solution?

By Amy L. Alexander, The Root

Last week, Twitter said it was “pausing” to reconsider the process by which it bestows the blue checkmark denoting accounts that had been “verified,” and on Wednesday the company announced it was yanking the designation from some users who occupy the neo-Nazi or nationalist bucket of grassroots white activism. The announcements came after many users, including The Root’s Monique Judge, raised hell when Twitter gavea blue checkmark to Jason Kessler, a white nationalist who helped plan the pro-Confederacy march last August in Charlottesville, Va.

While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his workers ruminated on the company’s account verification policies, I decided it was a good time for us to pause and think about our relationship with Twitter and other social media and technology companies. We voluntarily “contribute” our creative insights, dollars and labor to the success of these companies by buying devices and apps, uploading memes, ideas and language that trends widely. Yet in terms of the vast wealth these companies hold, disburse to employees and generate for shareholders, we get little in return.

Think of the recent moment where top lawyers for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, along with Twitter and Facebook, were summoned to Capitol Hill to testify before Senate and House committees looking into the company’s role in disseminating toxic content and ads during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

(L-R) Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, October 31, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anti-black messaging was the secret-sauce of many of the pro-Trump, nationalist memes and messages that flooded through the popular social media channels during the 2016 election cycle. Yet somehow, the gatekeepers at Facebook and Twitter didn’t seem to notice the methodical manipulation of racial animus that already exists in America, specifically, some white Americans’ negative opinions of blacks.

The leaders and staffs of Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social media platforms missed the Russian’s exploitation of the black-white divide, an obliviousness that has precedent: black women users had long alerted Twitter officials to abusive conduct of other users, up to and including death threats. The hashtag #YourSlipIsShowing catalogs such experiences from black women dating back several years, and is readily available…at least to those interested in learning about and addressing these kind of user experiences.

But clearly, the tech company leaders were not inclined to pay attention to this area of user complaints, a strong indication that they also probably weren’t interested in the views of the few blacks and Latinx workers at their companies, either. Just look at what happened to Leslie Miley, a black former engineer at Twitter. Miley revealed in a recent interview that he had flagged tons of dubious accounts in 2015, telling his bosses that he believed they were from Ukraine or Russia, and that they appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign.

Miley was told by his bosses at Twitter to “stay in his lane,” a response that Miley says he took as a sign that the company leadership preferred to err on the side “growth numbers,” rather than on any potential harm to audiences that the bots might pose.

Meanwhile, black users of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google products infuse them with a deep coolness factor that resonates around the world. Our intellectual property and creativity is the lifeboat that floats these companies to revenue solvency, yet few of us share in the enormous economic wealth generated by these companies, not even after dozens of news stories, industry conferences, and activist’s complaints forced the companies to pledge to improve hiring and retention.

Black Americans know when something smells rotten, including the kinds of scams and shady BS that can unfold at one’s job. And, as usual, blacks and other marginalized communities have solutions. We have the brain-power, problem-solving acumen, and moral fortitude to right the ship of state.

The question is whether our concerns and advice will be heeded, and whether we can achieve full access to the genuine levers of power in the United States, including access to quality education, healthcare, voting and, most importantly in the context of the innovation ecosystem, investment capital.

Read the full article here.

It’s not just the Tech industry, either. Read how one company is beginning to acknowledge its racist past here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Sometimes, Staying Woke Means Staying Away

Bassey Ikpi, theroot.com

Waking up to tragedies of some measure has become the norm over the years. Lately it feels as if every day there’s another hashtag created to expose our worst fears or break what’s left of our hearts.

I wasn’t clear on what had happened; all I saw were the hashtags floating down the page. My head started to spin, and I suddenly couldn’t remember what Manchester was. A college? A town? Both. But where?

Photo illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG

Then I remembered the soccer club my son hates and the cousin who went to university there. My heart slowed and then quickened with the “RIPs to,” “prayers for” and “My [sister/cousin/best friend] was there … I can’t reach them … ” And the faces smiling into a future they won’t see; the tweets full of panic, turning Twitter into a virtual search party….

Back then, there were no hashtags to search, no accidental viewing of dead bodies between the latest celebrity happenings or presidential blunder. There were no pundits to politicize or finger-wag (yet); there was just a collective grieving. A community of people saddened and confused….

The pressure to take to the streets, to do something (RESIST! RESIST! RESIST!), is great. The thought is that it raises awareness; that we are part of the solution; that we must never forget these horrors or place one above the other in attention and amplification. But for some of us—the ones who hold life and death in the same shallow expanse of breath; the ones who find sleep an uneasy, uncomfortable space; the ones who are unable to keep our moods and our spirits at the same elevated level—exposure to these things does a damage….

The balance is not easy even for the most stable among us.

Times have changed.

Social media has become our community.

I could not afford to let the thing enter. I could already feel it tugging at my corners like an attention-starved child. I had to give myself permission to turn it off and turn away.

I hope you give yourself permission to turn it off and turn away. Find Netflix or Bruno Mars or a book that only asks that you believe two people can fall in love.

Sometimes, staying woke simply means staying alive.

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.