Skip to Content

Congress Learns A Lesson About Internet Hate In Real Time

Mohammad Abu-Salha testifies during a House Judiciary Committee about hate crimesMohammad Abu-Salha testifies during a House Judiciary Committee about hate crimes
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of victims in a 2015 shooting in Chapel Hill, NC, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing discussing hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism on April 9, 2019 in Washington DC. Zach Gibson—Getty Images

Call it out and they will come.

This was the painful lesson learned yesterday, as YouTube moderators were forced to disable comments on the House Judiciary Committee’s livestreamed congressional hearing on online hate.

The hearing itself had turned into an object lesson in online hate.

Before the session had even begun, hateful comments began pouring in, including white nationalist memes, anti-Semitic slurs, misogynist asides, pro-Trump rhetoric, complaints about “white genocide,” and other rhetoric.

“These platforms are utilized as conduits to spread vitriolic hate messages into every home and country,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler [D-NY] said as vile comments populated the screen next to his face in the online viewer. “Efforts by media companies to counter this surge have fallen short, and social network platforms continue to be used as ready avenues to spread dangerous white nationalist speech.”

According to Buzzfeed, PBS NewsHour’s YouTube channel also had their comments disabled, as did, wait for it… Red Ice TV, a white nationalist YouTube channel based out of Sweden. “PBS’s comment section was disabled first, then the official stream’s comment section, and then finally Red Ice’s,” reports Ryan Broderick, who watched the mess unfold so we didn’t have to.

It was, in a word, awful, particularly for the tech companies who were on the hot seat.

Drama aside, the session also fell short.

Wired called the hearing a “four-hour squabble over who’s most hated, and who’s doing the hating, in America,” a fight to the bottom to rank anti-blackness, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant sentiment, and place blame alternately on media companies and political parties.

“As all this unfolded, the tech industry representatives mostly sat back, fielding overly simple questions about whether Facebook allows people to report hate or how YouTube spots videos that violate its policies,” they report.

One conservative commentator named Candace Owens used her time to dismiss complaints against tech executives and express skepticism about the rise of white supremacism. “They blame Facebook. They blame Google. They blame Twitter. Really, they blame the birth of social media, which has disrupted their monopoly on minds,” she said of Democrats. “They called this hearing because they believe if it wasn’t for social media, voices like mine would never exist.”

But one testimonial particularly stands out.

In 2015, Mohammad Abu-Salha’s two daughters and son-in-law were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina home, a horrific murder driven by an anti-Muslim ecosystem. “There’s no question in our mind this tragedy was born of bigotry and hate,” Abu-Salha said.

The North Carolina-based psychiatrist went on to share details that brought two committee members visibly to tears.

“Bullets macerated Yusor’s and Razan’s brains. Deah took many bullets to his arms and chest before he fell down to the ground. After that, the murderer saw that he was still breathing and shot him again in the mouth,” he said. “I must be one of a few physicians, if not the only one, who read his own children’s murder autopsy report. The details are seared into my memory.”

He said he also saw a tweet praising the murderer, Craig Hicks, who is still awaiting trial. But the rhetoric comes from elected officials, too. “Americans take cues from their public officials, and those officials have created an environment filled with dangerous, hateful rhetoric that dehumanizes Muslim Americans and fuels violence towards my community,” he said.

But Muslims are not alone in facing the violence. I’ll give Dr. Abu-Salha the last word:

Hate violence against members of my community cannot be ignored any longer. For far too long our public officials have turned a blind eye to the extremist violence that is killing our children – that killed my children. In 2012, a white supremacist murdered six and injured four at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In 2015, a white nationalist filled with racial hatred entered the predominantly African American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine individuals. In 2018, a white nationalist burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and shouted anti-Semitic slurs, killing 11 worshippers.

How much longer will we allow this to continue?

On Point

Despite safety concerns about Baby Powder, Johnson & Johnson targeted black, brown and overweight womenBefore the World Health Organization classified talc as a possible carcinogen in 2006, Johnson & Johnson began re-thinking the future of its most identifiable product. A Reuters investigation of internal company documents shows that despite the health concerns, the company launched a decades-long focus on mostly non-white women, often citing specific targets, such as “curvy Southern women 18-49 skewing African American.” Strategies including sharing free Baby Powder samples through churches and beauty salons in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. As class action suits press on, the stories are heartbreaking. Still want to talk about the business case for diversity?Reuters

Study: Students of color are healthier in school environments that value diversity
A group of researchers studying a diverse group of students from more than 100 different urban schools found that when schools emphasize the importance of diversity, students of color are healthier. The researchers found the black adolescents had lower markers of inflammation, less insulin resistance and fewer signs of metabolic disorders. “These results suggest that institutions that emphasize diversity may play an unacknowledged role in protecting the health of people of color and, thus, may be a site for future interventions to reduce health disparities.” (Subscription, or available for single purchase.)
PNAS

Go-go music and the true cost of gentrification
On the corner of 7th Street and Florida Ave in the Shaw area of Washington, D.C. there is a Metro PCS store owned by a black entrepreneur named Donald Campbell. He’s been playing a certain type of music known as go-go out to the corner for years. It was the delight of the neighborhood. “Go-go is the music and soul of DC,” explains Jossif Ezekiolv. “It is a living embodiment of this city’s history and culture, a blend of funk, R&B, and hip-hop reflective of the Black musical tradition of what was once known as Chocolate City.” Campbell was recently ordered by T-Mobile to stop playing the music, which has sparked a passionate conversation -including a block/dance party – about gentrification and the silencing of black culture. A public town hall is scheduled for tomorrow, there’s also a petition to support Campbell. Follow #DontMuteDC.
Rantt

A new version of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” is on HBO
It is the directorial debut of Rashid Johnson, a multi-hyphenate artistic talent, paired with Ashton Sanders, one of the breakout stars of Moonlight. It promises to be a richly imagined interpretation. For one, the story is set on Chicago’s middle-class North Side, and not Wright’s South Side. And Sanders, who plays Bigger Thomas, is now decidedly modern: He’s portrayed as a “skinny green-haired afropunk.” But the themes remain the same. “You know, Bigger is, kind of, the black experience,” Sanders tells Mari Uyehara for GQ. “No matter where you come from, no matter how much money you have, somehow we feel these anxieties from society.” Click through for one of the most creative conversations involving shea butter you’ll ever read.
GQ

On Background

Do you tip the hotel maid?
It’s become an interesting conversation in business travel circles. Everyone tips food wait staff, of course, and travelers customarily tip the people they see – the people who open doors, carry bags and hail taxis, who are almost always men, and often white. But hotel maids, who do their work unseen, are often forgotten. They’re also primarily women of color or immigrants. When hotels have tried to boost tipping, customers have complained. But the tips make a huge difference for the women who do tough work on a tight schedule often using harsh cleaners that compromise their health. So why is it not the norm to tip them?
New York Times

Harlem through a painter’s eyes
Alice Neel moved from bohemian Greenwich Village to Harlem in 1938, a move that might have put her growing career as an artist and tastemaker in jeopardy. Instead, she became an important chronicler of a renaissance that would shape the world. Her work is featured in a new exhibit curated by New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als, but this wonderful profile helps to explain both who she was and how she worked. She called herself a “collector of souls” and her portraiture reflected a deep curiosity about the world that was both intimate and compassionate. “For Neel herself, everyone was equal in all their idiosyncrasies and racial differences,” Als told The Atlantic. “Everyone was a member of her club. She painted people no matter what their color, creed, or social standing, and this is what makes her oeuvre so unique.”
The Atlantic

How the model minority myth hurts people at work
It’s more than just the pressure to succeed, says professor and researcher Adia Harvey Wingfield. Racism affects the professional potential of Asian people from the time they become students. While Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people have made it part-way into managerial ranks, Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, and Filipino Americans remain overrepresented in low wage jobs. “Research suggests that whites see Asian American men as being unfit for management, because they are stereotyped as passive and weak,” which operates as a racialized glass ceiling. But throughout their professional development, being rewarded for silence means that very real problems like discrimination or depression go unaddressed. “When Asian Americans are depicted as the minority group that doesn’t complain, attract negative attention, or cause problems, it can feel uncomfortable for them to point out stereotypes, insults, and assaults,” she writes.
The Atlantic

 

Quote

This has happened on too many occasions. Families like mine – regular Americans living regular lives – are left without hope that justice will truly be served. Our families were fortunate to have lawyers, including at the Muslim Advocates, supporting us every step of the way, but these volunteers cannot be everywhere. It should not be so difficult to navigate the system to seek justice. And because the climate of bigotry is getting worse, I am gravely worried that more tragedies will happen if action is not taken at all levels of government.
—Mohammad Abu-Salha