In his work, Cyber Racism, Jessie Daniels discusses the intersection of race and digital technology, usually considered two separate entities. He begins with a powerful quote from white supremacist David Duke, “I believe that the Internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.” We typically focus on the positive effects of the internet — increased interconnectedness, faster dissemination of information, and globalization of conversation. However, it is precisely these aspects that white supremacists have taken advantage of to bring their conversation and ideology online. The danger of cyber racism and supremacist propaganda online extends beyond harassment and physical harm, especially as youth increasingly turn to the Internet for civil rights information but are unable to easily discern fact from fiction.
Without a critical digital literacy, it is near impossible for the unwitting user to realize they have stumbled upon a white supremacist site that detracts from every hard-earned win in racial equality. Despite fifty years having passed since the civil rights movement, this global white identity termed “translocal whiteness” by Les Back fosters a racist cyberculture that becomes much harder to fight head-on. A small consolation is that these sites are not successful tools for recruitment as they still rely on face-to-face interactions for bringing in new members. Still, every online community provides a forum where participants can associate their ideology with that of our founding fathers and thus “engage in a self-perpetuating cycle of validating (their) knowledge claims.”
It’s important to note the bigger picture struggle between freedom of speech and protection of equality in America. The American predisposition to ensuring the former makes it very difficult for offenders to be convicted as in the sole case of Richard Machado. His email crime was only possible due to seemingly benign technological capabilities including email, the cc function, searchable online directories, and online aliases. At the time of this book’s publication, Machado was the only person convicted of an Internet hate crime in the United States. Given the sheer number of cloaked supremacist sites, this begs the question of whether we are too often turning a blind eye to cyber racism. Filtering programs are simply not enough, especially paired with the inconsistent application of content rules on sites like Google and AOL. Google may shift blame to their search engine algorithm to explain why supremacist sites are common top results, but perhaps we should think about better moderating what is displayed. Regardless, if free speech considerations continue to weigh heavier in this debate, then it’s absolutely necessary to increase digital literacy and educate our youth about cyber racism as the newest form of oppression.
This week’s second reading, “Locate the Hate: Detecting Tweets against Blacks,” discusses the use of labeled data from Twitter accounts to monitor hate speech, particularly of anti-black nature. In the constant struggle of free speech versus censorship, Twitter is unique in the intensity of its “racially charged dialogues”, especially in comparison to other social media platforms like Facebook (aptly described in class as a platform of positivity). The authors point to the issue that hate speech on Twitter is “not always evident given Twitter’s instant feeds” and how this helps anti-black users with large followings gain a surprising amount of traction on the site.
The initial approach the authors employed was to compile 100 tweets with hate speech that were consequently classified by 3 students of different races as offensive (or not) and if so, rated on the level of offensiveness using a scale from 1-5. Only 33% agreed in their classifications, suggesting machines would have an even harder time classifying racist tweets. The authors then turned to the Naïve Bayes classifier using a training dataset of roughly 25,000 racist tweets (self-classified or categorized through news sources). Labels were developed for reasons as to why each tweet was deemed racist, such as “contains offensive words”, and “threatening.” 86% of the anti-black tweets contained offensive words, and so became the basis of unique words in the racist/nonracist training sets.
An interesting finding was that “niggers” and “nigger” were most prominent in the racist sphere, whereas “niggas” and “nigga” were found in informal speech within the black Twitter community. The authors concluded that “acceptable usage of these words is restricted to blacks and approved allies of blacks”, given that “nigga” has become synonymous with “person of male gender.” Thus, the race of the tweeter is an important nuance that adds to the complexity of analysis pertaining to racism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is an internationally-reaching organization whose “innovative Teaching Tolerance program produces and distributes…documentary films, books, lesson plans, and other materials that promote tolerance and respect in our nation’s schools.” Take a look at the youtube video below for an example of how Laurence Tan, a fifth-grade teacher in LA centers his curriculum on five values — engage, educate, experience, empower and enact — and includes families/parents in the conversation to help his students become “socially critical and responsible individuals.”
The SPLC also has resources like their Hate Map, which visually displays the number of hate organizations in each state. Looking at the map holistically, it makes sense that the South is heavily concentrated with hate groups. However, I was genuinely surprised by the fact that California has the highest number of recorded hate organizations at 77 total. As a California native, I have always perceived the state as both liberal and extremely welcoming towards diverse communities. I didn’t realize the amount of friction this diverse population might cause and we see this duplicated in New York, an even more diverse state (described as a melting pot), yet still on the higher end of the spectrum with 42 hate groups. This suggests to me that having a racially heterogeneous population can be fruitful in increasing understanding and communication between racial subgroups. At the same time, racially homogenous states in the mid-west have an almost non-existent number of hate groups so under what conditions does increasing diversity in communities actually help reduce racial tensions?
Discussion Questions for The Week
1) In “Locate the Hate”, the authors state “acceptable usage of these words (niggas/nigga) is restricted to blacks and approved allies of blacks.” However, I don’t believe there is ample justification to use the term “nigga,” even if it is accepted as casual speech. Through this line of reasoning, someone can justify that Asians are allowed to use the term “chink” freely whereas any non-Asian would be considered racist for communicating an ethnic slur. Why is it sometimes okay for racial subgroups to use slurs against themselves? Isn’t the use of these slurs detrimental to our efforts to combat racism?
<Funny if an Asian says it, unacceptable for anyone else to say it?>
2) According to Facebook’s Help Center, “hate speech, credible threats, or direct attacks on an individual or group” are not allowed on the site. Looking at Twitter’s posting rules with regards to violence and threats, “you may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.” Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not explicitly address hate speech. This is likely a factor in the amplification of hate speech that the authors of “Locate the Hate” speak to in their article. In your opinion, should Twitter also prevent the posting of hate speech on their site and if so, who or what should determine what constitutes hate speech?
3) The Southern Poverty Law Center focuses on education as the means to reducing the existence of potency of racial hate in the United States. To me, this implies a focus on educating the nation’s youth in their formative time of racial biases. According to this New York Times article, “we are living at an unusual moment when the rate of progress has been dizzying from one generation to the next, such that Americans older than 60, say, are rooted in a radically different sense of society from those younger than 40.” With this generational tension, what sort of back-channels are there for educating older generations with stronger racial biases? Do any of you have stories about how your perspective has helped shift that of your parents and/or grandparents?
Bai, M. (2010, July 17). Beneath Divides Seemingly About Race Are Generational Fault Lines. Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/us/politics/18bai.html?_r=0
Daniels, J. (2009). Cyber racism: White supremacy online and the new attack on civil rights. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Hate Map. (2014, January 1). Retrieved September 24, 2014, from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=CA
Kwok, I., & Wang, Y. (2013). Locate the Hate: Detecting Tweets against Blacks. Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
Laurence Tan -Teaching Tolerance Awards. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVeNxOQPKMc
The Twitter Rules. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2014, from https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules
Warnings | Facebook Help Center | Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/help/101389386674555/