Commentary

Facebook and Twitter in the News

Jun 28, 2017

Two announcements from the world of social media: one terrific, the other troubling.

First, the good news. Twitter has hired Candi Castleberry Singleton as its new VP of diversity and inclusion, filling a spot that’s been vacant since February. The company took its time, and it paid off: By all accounts, Singleton is a treasure. She's the founder of the Dignity & Respect Campaign, a behavior-based leadership initiative that helps individuals and organizations become more culturally aware, she also has experience helping large corporations drive diversity, having held major roles at Sun Microsystems and Motorola.

And now for the not so great news. This morning, the investigative media outlet ProPublica published an in-depth examination of internal documents that shed light on the algorithms Facebook uses to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate political speech. Here’s a tidbit:

Over the past decade, the company has developed hundreds of rules, drawing elaborate distinctions between what should and shouldn’t be allowed, in an effort to make the site a safe place for its nearly 2 billion users. The issue of how Facebook monitors this content has become increasingly prominent in recent months, with the rise of “fake news” — fabricated stories that circulated on Facebook like “Pope Francis Shocks the World, Endorses Donald Trump For President, Releases Statement” — and growing concern that terrorists are using social media for recruitment.

While Facebook was credited during the 2010-2011 “Arab Spring” with facilitating uprisings against authoritarian regimes, the documents suggest that, at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities. In so doing, they serve the business interests of the global company, which relies on national governments not to block its service to their citizens.

The entire report is a must-read, but I predict the conversations consuming your feeds today will center on a single document - the one that trains content reviewers in the fine art of applying the company’s hate algorithm.

From the report:

The slide identifies three groups: female drivers, black children and white men. It asks: Which group is protected from hate speech? The correct answer: white men.

Facebook’s rationale, which the company is prepared to defend, is that accounts should be censured when attacks are directed at “protected categories” - based on race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and serious disability/disease. The first two examples are considered “subsets” of protected categories because only one of the two identifiers is considered protected. Female is protected, drivers are not. In the global world of Facebook where everything should be fair, attacks on white men are deleted because both traits are considered protected categories.

This explains why every activist you know who writes passionately, knowledgeably, and responsibly about white supremacy gets routinely blocked on Facebook.

Danielle Citron, a law professor and expert on information privacy at the University of Maryland told ProPublica that this color-blind approach will “protect the people who least need it and take it away from those who really need it.”

It certainly raises some big questions. Facebook just reached two billion users, an extraordinary achievement. But it also means that it has the weight of more than one-third of the world on its shoulders. Facebook's still imperfect attempts to police speech around the world should be everybody's business.

On Point

Study: Black girls are perceived as less innocent than white girls

It’s a tough read. The study from Georgetown, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, expands on a 2014 study that focused on adult perceptions of black boys. The survey asked 325 adults from various racial and ethnic backgrounds about their perceptions, including stereotypes, of both white and black girls. Most adults thought that black girls seem older and in less need of protection than white girls of the same age, and that they knew more about sex. “What we found is that adults see black girls as less innocent and less in need of protection as white girls of the same age,” said the lead author in a statement.

USA Today

Three Chicago police officers charged in the Laquan McDonald shooting case

Three current or former officers are facing serious criminal charges following an alleged, attempted cover-up to protect fellow officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed Laquan McDonald in October 2014. The officers are accused of filing false accounts of the shooting, and for failing to interview witnesses who were set to contradict their version of events. Van Dyke was originally cleared of wrongdoing despite dashcam video that showed McDonald walking away from him at the time of the shooting. Van Dyke was later charged with first-degree murder just as the video, which showed him shooting McDonald sixteen times, was set to be made public.

Chicago Sun Times

The murder of an immigrant tech employee in Kansas shakes a community

The last words Srinivas Kuchi­bhotla, an engineer for Garmin, heard were: “Get out of my country.” Kuchi­bhotla was shot along with his friend, another Indian man, while enjoying a couple of cold beers at a Kansas City area bar last February. Before shooting them, the man harassed them verbally, calling them “sand niggers,” and demanded to know where they were from. Wired has an extraordinary profile of Kuchibhotla and his long path to the U.S., and how the murder has shattered his family, friends and the faith of a generation of immigrants who no longer believe they have a place in Trump’s America. But here’s something that may restore a bit of your faith: Before the shooter returned with his gun, nearly every person in the bar expressed support for Kuchibhotla and his friend, the bartender apologized, and another “tech guy” picked up their tab. "We're all Americans," the pair were told.

Wired

Notes on Black Entertainment Television

BET, known widely for its lively television series, news, comedy shows – and it’s always entertaining music award show -- is increasingly making big bets on original scripted programming. In this revealing interview at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, BET’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Debra Lee, and Will Packer, Executive Producer of Being Mary Jane, talked about the future of the network, now that there’s more competition for black-themed content. Lee recalled Sean Combs announcing to her that he was starting a black network and wanted her to be his mentor. “[Y]ou just told me that you’re starting a network to compete with me,” she said when he asked why she didn’t look happy. “I wish you luck.” Here’s one to bookmark: A new late night John Oliver-style show is coming, starring Robin Thede, a former writer/producer for The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. It will be the first late night culture jam lead by a black woman.

Observer

The Woke Leader

Speaking of the BET Awards…

There were many notable moments at the most recent show, from Chance the Rapper’s lovely acceptance speech for his justice work, to the New Edition reunion. But this bizarre encounter between rapper Joe Budden and the rap group Migos is rapidly becoming the stuff of meme legend. The “incident” happened during a pre-show interview being “conducted” by DJ Akademiks for his show called Everyday Struggle. That’s when “Budden threw down his microphone and stormed off the set in the middle of one of the stupidest, most inane conversations ever captured on video,” explains The Root’s Michael Harriot. Here’s everything you need to know about why everyone got so salty. Come for the shirts, stay for the mic drops.

The Grapevine

The Muslim tradition of science and speculative fiction

Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad has a wonderful resume: he’s a senior data scientist at Groupon, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Washington, an inventor and artist. And he’s proud of the long Muslim tradition of speculative writing and fiction, begun during the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 13th centuries) and designed, in part, to explore the human challenges of cultural integration during a time of rapid territorial expansion. He says the first Arabic novel, Alive, Son of Awake, was about a child raised on a remote island by a gazelle, with no access to human culture until he meets a castaway. And please credit the Muslim world for an early entrance into feminist fiction, he says, with Sultana’s Dream. It's a 1905 feminist tract set in a world called ‘Ladyland.’

Aeon

On being black in Nova Scotia and celebrating Canada’s difficult history

Once upon a time, begins journalist Denise Balkissoon, there was a place called Africville. It had been a small but important neighborhood in Nova Scotia, razed by the government in the mid-1960s for the land it sat on. All that’s left is a tiny museum. “People who lived there are still alive,” she says. “There's a 72-year-old named Eddie Carvery who hangs out in a trailer outside the museum every day, unwilling to leave without reparations.” This is the danger of anniversaries, as Canada celebrates the 150th birthday of the Confederation this year. It’s the reconsideration of the pride and marketing - like heroic Edward Cornwallis who founded Halifax, “and who encouraged the genocide of the Mi'kmaq who already inhabited the place he wanted to found.” She gathered a series of stories over a weekend spent visiting with black Nova Scotians to learn about what their lives were like then and now. “They moved them out in city garbage trucks," said one about the Africville destruction. The museum is totally isolated from the community. “There's no bus that comes down here."

The Globe and Mail

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