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White supremacy groups are proliferating, targeting people of all races while social media organizations, like Facebook and Twitter, have been accused of shielding racist posts. In times of COVID when the pandemic has redefined our lives and heightened our exposure to digital content, the danger of online hate is real.

Racist posts are couched in clever ways. Chris Gray, who left Facebook in 2018, said to the New Yorker, that racist or violence engendering posts were “constantly getting reported, but the posts that ended up in my queue never quite went over the line to where I could delete them. The wording would always be just vague enough.”

Additionally, social media companies are reluctant to take action unless forced to by a public media backlash. Content with sizable follower counts, or with significant cultural or political clout – content whose removal might interrupt a meaningful flow of revenue, have been left to multiply.  Former employees say that only public media storms have forced social media organizations to take action. Fear of political repercussions or loss of revenue makes their response to racist posts sluggish.

At the core of the problem is the monetization of attention. Algorithms are trained on augmenting posts that generate eyeballs. The content-moderation priorities won’t change until its algorithms stop amplifying whatever content is most enthralling or emotionally manipulative. This might require a new business model, perhaps even a less profitable one, which is why objectors aren’t hopeful that it will happen voluntarily, the New Yorker reported.

At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on, October 9th, Neil Ruiz, associate director of Global Migration and Demography Research at the Pew Research Center, shared the findings from his new report: “Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak” 

Panellists discussed how hate is contagious, much like a virus, and that President’s social media posts are not helping. His use of terms words like ‘China virus’ feed the fear of a ‘yellow peril’ stereotype, and incites violence against Asian Americans. And yet the social media companies do nothing.

Donald Trump’s Facebook post in December 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” insinuated that Muslims – all 1.8 billion of them, presumably – “have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” 

According to the Times, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO was personally “appalled” by Trump’s post. Still, his top officials held a series of meetings to decide, given Trump’s prominence, whether an exception ought to be made. In order to avoid incurring the wrath of Trump and his supporters,Trump’s post stayed up.

Going into the elections, violence against races increases, said Mike German, at the briefing.  German, who served as an FBI agent for 16 years and infiltrated violent white nationalist organizations, spoke of the government’s failure to include racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic violence committed by white nationalists within its counterterrorism mandate. The government does not track white supremacist violence, he said. 

“Only 12.6 percent of law enforcement agencies actually acknowledge hate crimes occur within their jurisdiction,” he said. On the other hand victim-reported hate crimes are as high as 230,000 this year.

John Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) said the rise in hate against the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, AAPI community, was fueled by the President’s racially-divisive rhetoric. Stop AAPI Hate, has recorded 2,583 incidents of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Many people of color say they have experienced hate-motivated crime and discrimination amid the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. 

This year in particular has seen a tectonic shift in the way communities across the world integrate digital and social networks into their daily lives, says ADL’s annual Online Hate and Harassment Report: The American Experience 2020.

“As our world continues to be redefined through digital services and online discourse, the American public has become increasingly aware of and exposed to online hate and harassment. The Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant communities in particular are experiencing an onslaught of targeted hate, fueled by antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Asian bigotry, and Islamophobia surrounding the novel coronavirus. The pandemic has heightened exposure to toxic content and provided new opportunities for exploitation by those seeking to harm others using digital services and tools”, the report said.

We are being invaded by this hatred. It’s everywhere. It’s silent. It’s as deadly as this disease. 

Fear of political backlash or loss of revenue is not a good reason for a sluggish response to racist posts. Social media giants must fight hate speech.

“The white supremacist violence is not going away. The backlash against Arab/ Muslim/Sikh community after 9/11 has lasted over 10 years,” said Manju Kulkarni, executive director of AP3CON.”We are at the 210,000 fatality mark.”


Ritu Marwah is a long term resident of Silicon Valley and has seen the Sun Microsystems campus turn into Facebook HQ.

Images: RituMarwah

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

 

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