Tag Archives: Black Twitter

Net Neutrality: The Social Justice Issue of Our Time

Originally Posted by PublicKnowledge.org


By Willmary Escoto

Democracy has become a daily visceral online experience. When Philando Castile was shot by a Minnesota police officer his girlfriend’s first instinct was to start broadcasting. Diamond Reynolds chose to live-stream the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live, sharing the graphic cries of her four-year-old daughter with over 3.2 million viewers. Live streaming is transforming the growth of citizen journalism, providing a distressing view of shootings like these, and empowering citizens to share their story without the fear of censorship.

The apparent perpetuation of racial injustice in America is not new to minorities. One of the most important democratizing effects of an open internet is its emancipatory impact on underrepresented groups. It enables impoverished communities to bring to light the social injustices that were once in the shadows. The expansion of this movement and its capability to respond rapidly and effectively to the brutal and biased policing of Black, Latino, LGBT, and other minority groups depends, in part, on access to a non-discriminatory internet. The internet plays a critical role in the dissemination of information and services specifically tailored for people of color and other marginalized groups, including LGBT people, because it provides the opportunity for us to tell our own stories and to organize for racial and social justice. That empowerment relies on an open internet and net neutrality.

Net neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers from interfering with, blocking, or discriminating against Web content. Unfortunately, in April 2017, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to undo those rules and strip consumers of those critical online protections. Chairman Pai specifically proposed to remove the internet’s classification as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.

Digital advocacy groups who oppose Chairman Pai’s proposal fear his approach will empower giant ISP gatekeepers and jeopardize net neutrality and free speech for disadvantaged populations, including people of color living in low-income communities who depend on equitable high-speed internet to tell their stories. Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition‘s affirmed that:

“Dismantling net neutrality opens the door for corporations to limit free expression, organizing efforts, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship by imposing a new tool to access information online. […]For Latinos and other people of color, who have long been misrepresented or underrepresented by traditional media outlets, an open Internet is the primary destination for our communities to share our stories in our own words—without being blocked by powerful gatekeepers motivated by profit.”

According to David Uberti of the Columbia Journalism Review:

“In most cases […] law enforcement’s point of view tends to dominate stories, as eyewitnesses might not be available or willing to talk, and victims – in the most violent cases – might be severely injured or dead. But smartphone video footage is changing the dynamic in a growing number of instances.”

The egalitarian quality of an open and accessible internet furthers the fundamental goals of civic engagement and free speech. The Black Lives Matter movement started with a simple hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, and it has transformed the dialogue surrounding police brutality and inequality. In an article in the Hill, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors said:

“Black Twitter broke the story of the murder of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson, while consolidated broadcast and cable industries lagged behind. From unarmed Black father John Crawford, murdered by police in an Ohio Walmart, to Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a Black 7-year-old murdered by police while she slept in her home—the open Internet allowed Black communities to tell these stories with our own voices.”

The audiovisual truth of Alton Sterling and Eric Garner’s public executions were undeniable and accessible because of the current net neutrality rules in place. ISPs are unable to control Twitter dissent, or block profiles reporting police brutality and access to video footage, thanks to the net neutrality. Activists can turn to the internet to circumvent cable, broadcast, mainstream, and print outlets improper characterizations  of disenfranchised and marginalized communities, because of an open and accessible internet. The current rules safeguard disadvantaged communities of color and America’s poor by ensuring that internet providers – upon whom we all rely to have our voices heard – treats all data on the internet the same.

In 2017, it is not just one movement, but every purpose that benefits from the ability to vibrantly and rapidly spread their message over a free and open internet. We watched the Women’s March explode from an idea on Facebook to a nationwide and global movement. Groups mobilizing in support of a Supreme Court nominee find an avenue to speak online just as well as leaders mobilizing mass protests against the Muslim ban and the immigration crackdowns. Conservative groups in rural America have found a voice online as well. In all cases, the American people have used the internet to mobilize and organize resistance against an increasingly heightened democratic dialogue. Millions have been able to mobilize so quickly because they have the ability to use the open internet to communicate to the masses and organize a resistance.

When Americans have protections for the proliferation of democratic discourse and civic engagement, we all benefit. It is our duty to ensure those protections aren’t dismantled and to protect our communities from the discriminatory practices of telecommunications companies.   We can’t allow the Trump administration and Chairman Pai to eliminate net neutrality and consumer protections that affect us all. Internet users cannot allow ISPs and other broadband providers to deliver substandard internet service to our communities.

Net neutrality is the beginning of a larger conversation on the future of the internet. The internet fosters mobilization for progressive and social change, and as advocates for social justice we must protect the internet from transitioning into a utility of privilege. The clock is ticking and the time is now. Gigi Sohn, one of the major net neutrality advocates who helped in crafting the FCC’s current Open Internet Order, published helpful advice for those who want to get involved.  As the United States transitions towards this internet-based communications network revolution, we must remain focused on the right goals: ensuring that the internet is affordable and accessible for all, not just the privileged.

Digital social justice demands no less.

Author, Willmary Escoto

‘Today in Black Twitter’

Mark S. Luckie

Mark S. Luckie

Mark S. Luckie, former Manager of Journalism and News for Twitter, launchedToday in Black Twitter. The new website was actually introduced months ago but has recently undergone a makeover. It is intended to document and catalog the daily conversations happening on the powerful Black Twitter platform. Already the site amassed thousands of followers and has been found the attention of Vox, Fader, TechCrunch and CNN Money

According to the website’s about page ‘Today in #BlackTwitter’ is a daily digest and Twitter account that algorithmically highlight trending conversations among the network of users collectively known as “Black Twitter.”

Twitter has become a powerful communication tool for the African-American online community. Pew Research data indicates that 28 percent of African-Americans using the Internet are also on Twitter. Using Twitter black people have voiced issues and held conversations of concern to black people. Black Twitter has kept alive numerous issues that concern black people including the deaths of black people at the hands of white police officers. Hashtags like #policebrutality, #blacklivesmatter focus attention on these issues.

According to Luckie “A random person can have a worldwide hashtag trend. Black Twitter surfaces individuals who are sparking conversations. Each day, you’re going to get something different. That’s what keeps it interesting for me.”

‘Today in Black Twitter’ website will encompass the past 24 hours on Black Twitter including cultural topics, politics, entertainment, memes and viral comedy.

Each post will include full attribution of the tweet source and will be free of any editorial subjectivity. The most popular or impactful tweets will be displayed based on the number of re-tweets or, in the case of hashtags, the original author. Readers can join in the conversation by subscribing to the daily digest and following @todayinblk on Twitter.

Today in Black Twitter also works as a source for journalists looking for the latest conversations in the African-American community. Luckie has written about “How *not* to Report on Black Twitter” and believes that mainstream media fails when it comes to black issues.

More about Mark S. Luckie – Mark was formerly the Manager of Journalism and News  at Twitter . He is the author the Digital Journalist’s Handbookand his most recent novel Do U. Check Mark’s web presence at LinkedIn.com, Twitter and Tumblr.com.

Anonymously Ask A Black Person

Wayne Sutton

Wayne Sutton

Anonymously Ask A Black person is a website that allows anyone to ask a black person a question. Anyone can ask an intelligent question and get an intelligent answer from a black person. The site, the brainchild of Wayne Sutton, is intended to open up the conversation on race. People asking questions need not fear being ridiculed or denounced as a racist for asking curious questions about black people, black culture and attitudes. Sutton points out that many white people have no black friends or have little interaction with black people and therefore have misguided perceptions about a black person’s experiences and views on life.

In America we struggle with race. America is supposed to be the land of freedom and opportunity for all. That is debatable. The color of your skin matters in America. It impacts everything you do, everywhere you go and everybody you interact with. Something has to change; enter Wayne Sutton.

Sutton describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. He is a general partner at BuildUP VC. Sutton is a tireless warrior for diversity in the tech sector and that is the essence of what he does at BuildUP VC. Sutton believes his life’s mission is to bring more color, more minorities, into the Silicon Valley. He believes that race, as the primary issue, must be dealt with. An unconventional thinker, Sutton’s mindset is to find new ways to deal with the race issue. His dedication to solving the race problem in the heart of America’s technology sector has inspired him to createAnonymously Ask a Black Person”.  AABP is a website that is meant to amplify the whispered race conversation. Sutton’s objective is to get people talking.

Build Up

Tell us about BuildUP VC?

“Build-Up is a non-profit that focuses on education, mentorship and access for under-represented minorities in tech.”

I see a lot of corporations putting a lot of effort into diversity and bringing in minorities. But when I look at reports from companies like Facebook  I don’t see much happening. Are we facing a situation where there are not enough professionally trained minorities as say coders, etc.? And are we addressing that in our schools and other programs?

“I think we are addressing diversity the wrong way. In terms of saying there is a tech diversity problem in Silicon Valley, that message is the wrong approach because it’s not just a tech problem, not just a Silicon Valley problem. If you go deeper than that it’s an American problem. It’s an American workforce problem. It’s an American cultural problem where groups are not all included or looked at the same way when it comes to getting a job or equal salary, race or gender, you name it. It’s the history of America that these biases, these barriers, are in place. And unfortunately here we are in 2015 still dealing with some of the issues that Martin Luther King had to deal with back in the 1960’s. So that’s one problem. The second thing is all these tech companies talk about the workforce, talk about the numbers, as if we needed this data to start a conversation about what we already know. But that is the way the landscape works so we deal with the hand they give us.”

Sutton, getting to the very root of the Silicon Valley diversity problem, questioned the recruitment process of large tech companies.

“Now what’s the problem here? Are we qualified for these jobs? The answer is yes. Now, is there a pipeline problem if you only recruit from Ivy League schools which don’t have a diverse population? You could arguably say where we go look for jobs we are not seen as candidates. Then of course there is a pipeline problem. Does that mean that there are not qualified African-Americans who can do tech jobs or non-tech jobs? No, that is not true. We are qualified to do the tech jobs. We are qualified to do the non-tech jobs. Now, why are we not getting those tech jobs? That’s a whole other conversation about biases, culture, pattern matching, etc. And let’s look at those schools. Why don’t they have a diverse candidate population? And it’s the same for non-tech jobs. Now, as black people we have a choice, we’re not going to go where we don’t feel welcome.”

Sutton is fair minded man. He is not about to lay the issue of diversity and race at the feet of white America without pointing out the failures of black America as well.

“As black people we also have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what happened in the black community where half of black boys don’t even graduate from high school? Now, that we can’t put on anyone else. We can’t say, ‘The Man.’ There is a lot of things we can’t say about the system where we as a culture, as a people, are not graduating from high school, black men, black women not graduating from high school. So what can we do as a culture?”

Sutton’s efforts  is to bring the whispered race conversation out in the open. In a single weekend of work Wayne, who admits he loves to build things, built Anonymously Ask a Black Person. Sutton believes that the first step to solving the problem is communication.

Are you pioneering race relations online? Is this an effort to disrupt racism by opening a new line of communications between black people and the rest of the world online?

“I don’t think I’m disrupting race relations. Part of my goal and my hope is that AABP can help massage the tension of having a conversation around race publicly and educate people who are misunderstood or have certain opinions or biases toward African-Americans. And to debunk how the media portrays African-Americans as stereotypes. We have to look at the data and statistics and the perception. There’s the assumption and there are things that we know. There are people who have zero black friends, none. There are cities, some states in America, where the black population is about one percent. We don’t think about that. We just think that everybody should know black people, no. There are some jobs, here in Silicon Valley, where black people have told me that they can go weeks without seeing another black person on the job. When you have people who have zero interaction with black people and all they know is what they see on television, media, entertainment, sports, they come to their own perceptions. Let a strong situation happen that impacts American culture that has been happening forever but now is more mainstream because of social media like Mike Brown, Ferguson or Eric Garner. All these situations throw us into the spotlight. We are not talking about right and wrong in the legal sense but what we do know is wrong is killing somebody, un-justified killing. That is horrendous and the media continues portray us as the agitators and not the victims of abuse.”

Sutton offers his insight on the reactions of black people online when events happen that involve race. He believes that a group think mentality is occurring and black people may not respond kindly to other black people who express their own opinion about racial issues.

“So you take those situations in African-American culture right now, situations where we as a society have changed in the dawn of social media. I was one of the first thousand users of Twitter in 2006. We are not the same people we were in 2006. We are bolder, more outspoken, there’s more group think, there’s more mob like behavior online.”

“So now if I’m a black person and I say something that could be controversial or not controversial, but as an opinion. I could say as black people we should do more of X. I could be right and a thousand people could agree with me. But the mob mentality could come at me and be like; you’re a Tom, a token. Now, I don’t want to say anything against black people because I might get attacked. A difference of opinion can create a bully and mob mentality. Everybody should have an opinion. But a lot of negative things have happened because we can do that in terms of groups, bully people. We can actually create fame for people who really shouldn’t have it like Rachel (Dolzeal). That was one of the reasons I created AABP. Because now it shows, here is how people view us. This is how they think. And in the response, a team of team of 15 of us, we try to educate people and give honest answers. But if you come at us with some BS you going to get BS back.”

Wayne agrees that opinions sometimes congeal on social media. That people are not open to thinking independently about some of these situations black people find themselves in. 

“Recently Hulk Hogan admitted to some racist comments he made. He apologizes. Everybody goes in and attacks him. WWE removes him from the website. Dennis Rodman comes out and defends him. Now, Dennis Rodman is a character himself. He has known Hogan for years and he, as a black person, defends him. Now I don’t agree with anyone, black or white, calling someone the ‘N’ word. But Dennis takes up for him and what happens. Everybody goes after Dennis. Dennis has the right to do what he wants to do. But the same things happens if I am an Asian person or white person asking a question about can I touch a black woman’s hair? Or why do black woman get so mad if I touch their hair? Or why do black people feel a certain way about X? Social media will go after a person, its group think. Can we have an intellectual debate around the person’s question without the name calling, without the abuse? The person has serious question. They may ask, ‘I don’t get why a black person gets offended when I say or do this? Or how do you want to be addressed, black or African-American?’ That’s a legitimate question. I have white friends who don’t know. They want to know. They don’t want to be offensive. Are they wrong for asking that question? Are they naive for asking that question? And can we have an interesting conversation about why you may or may not feel a certain way about a question?”

How many questions does AABP get?

“Actually the growth comes and goes. It seems to come and go with press. Some people are just curious; they want to know ‘is this real? Is this really a black person answering my questions? Are you really black?’ We’ve answered 1,600 SMS messages. But our goal is 10,000 questions in two or three months and we may hit that goal.”

Do you see peaks and valleys in the questions when there are incidents like the recent Sandra Bland incident in Texas?

“No. It’s different in terms of the connection with AABP. Since we started this thing we have had the Baltimore uprising, the Charleston shooting, then the Confederate flag controversy and now Sandra Bland. We know those things are in the news. They are covered by the media, our people, Black Twitter, etc. My team and I, we are all very sensitive about these issues. But we will not try and leverage those serious situations just to increase engagement on our site. But we do see the narrative change when things happen. But we don’t do anything special to get into those conversations. But we will get questions about how black people feel about the about the confederate flag or the police.”

Sutton knew he was taking a big step with AABP and spoke about the reaction to the project.

“I had to deal with some people in my own network who asked, how do I let people know you are not speaking for all black people? I tell them the name of the site is Anonymously Ask a Black Person, not ask black people. I am not trying to speak for all black people. And as a black person myself I am qualified to answer any question for someone who says; I just want to ask a black person a question.”

How was the site received when you first introduced it?

“It was weird. Because even myself when I first did it and I put it up on a couple of sites and somebody else put it on Reddit and it got 10,000 page views. I did one Facebook message and one Tweet. And Boom! I was remaining anonymous to see what happens. And when I came out and said it was me some of my tech friends asked; ‘what’s the purpose of this? How does this help diversity in tech?’ Because they know I am a big advocate and it’s my life’s mission. It was eye opening for me to see how people portrayed everything I do or this particular web app to be something for the diversity tech movement and it wasn’t. Honestly it wasn’t. But that was interesting. The other part of the conversation brought emails and Tweets from investors and non-blacks, short messages saying, ‘I like it. Keep it up. This is cool! That’s interesting.’ ”

“But I didn’t build it for a diverse tech conversation. I built it because I wanted to do something around race relations. I was frustrated actually because I had just announced some big news, I thought some tech companies would be impressed and get it in the press. I am serial entrepreneur, I like to build things. I also seen a couple of other similar services and one company raised $12 million dollars. I was like, really. I can build that. So let me just do it.”

When you first kicked this off you put it on ProductHunt.com and later they took it off the homepage.. They felt like it got a negative reaction. How did you feel about that?

“One, I wasn’t that surprised. I submitted because Product Hunt has this whole process just to get featured. And I submitted other things in the past and never got featured. I submitted this and nobody knew that I was behind it. The first version I built was a real hack. I was up late Sunday night, answering questions one by one and making sure the code was up and working. When I woke up at 9:30AM and I already had 43 votes on the Product Hunt homepage and was taken off by 10:00AM. I was like…shit!”

“I was getting interesting emails like, ‘Is a black person really behind this?’ One of the reasons it was taken off was because I wasn’t there to defend it. Another reason was that some people felt it was offensive and they just knew it was some white guys or a women or non-black people built this site and they knew it was going to be controversial. And people were offended. But they didn’t know who did it. They saw that Wayne submitted it. But they didn’t know who built it. But put this in perspective; why do people think that a non-black person would build something like that?”

Do you believe that black people don’t get credit for trying to reach out to other races? People may think blacks are always on the defensive or closed off? Do you feel that they may not want to give you credit for reaching out using AABP to deal with race relations, to deal with racial curiosity? 

“That’s an interesting question. I don’t know about that. My hypothesis was that people couldn’t believe that a black person could build a product that they may actually use. Or the product is actually cool or the product actually works. Or a product that actually makes sense around race or around black people. Why would people even think that a non-black person could build something like that? I got email from black people, who I know, that ask; ‘Is a black person behind this?’ They want to check. So what is the perception, that a black person can’t build a tech product? Or, is the perception also that if somebody builds a product around race or tech then it’s not a black person? It’s some programmer guy or somebody. Why would a people think that a black person could not build this?”

How did black people react to it?

“Some said it was cool. Some people were questioning me. Asking, ‘why is Wayne doing this?’ This is not good for us. This is not good for our eco-systems. How does this help diversity in tech?’ I got a lot of that which I was not anticipating. People were telling me about other conversations that were happening in Facebook groups and on Slack. Some people were saying this is not a good idea. Somebody needs to tell Wayne to stop. I was like, …alright then?”

“I have been in this web tech space for years. I’ve been an IT guy. I’ve seen a lot and been screen shouted a lot. People called me names. It always hurts when it’s your own people. It always hurts the most when it’s your own people. And I don’t know if I would have done anything different. I say, look this is not necessarily bothering you. It doesn’t hurt you either. But you’re not happy about it for some reason.”

More about Wayne Sutton and BuildUp.