Guest Writer Spotlight: Has social media become a catalyst for the spread of racism?
By Melissa Cartew
A few years back, no one would have imagined how social media would evolve to be what it is today – a powerful tool of interaction. People relied on one–on–one encounters or by calling via phones. Today, most communications are done online through emails and chats on social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, Voodoo, Viber, etc.
In the past years, it was not easy to circulate news or messages across regions or nations through online platforms as is the case today. Imagine what happens when one posts a message on a Facebook group with millions of subscribers? That message reaches all those people instantly. What if it is a hate speech message? Then, the damage caused is immense.
Since this is a current issue, it requires one to be alive to the current happenings and conduct in-depth research by reading web pages, journals and professional book reviews touching on the topic to understand well the extent of the problem.
A study that was conducted by Safehome.org in 2016 in the US indicated that social media based hate groups tend to have more followers than ordinary groups. With about 900 groups identified, most of these were found to be from Arkansas. As a result, the survey concluded at the time that this state had more racist groups than any other in the US. The study also established that Arkansas – just like Georgia, Indiana, Wyoming and South Carolina – does not have laws against racial and gender-based crimes.
As per the Conversation.com webpage, a look at online trends on some political and social movements that were previously deemed inactive – such as xenophobic militants, white supremacists, Holocaust deniers and Stormfront – revealed reinvigorated online activities. In particular, the Stormfront website was found to have received over two million online visitors a month – over half a million more visits than sites like NAACP and Anti-Defamation League receive monthly.
To demonstrate that social platforms are being used as a catalyst for spreading racist messages, all one needs is to look at what was happening in the US when Barrack Obama was contesting for the presidency. Those who were against his candidacy embarked on a negative online campaign that, among other things, touched on his race and family background.
Some even questioned if he was truly an American citizen, as he was said to have some Kenyan roots. The same was also used to spread unfounded rumors that Obama was a Muslim and that he would help Muslims spread Islam in the United States.
Others alleged that his ascension to power would pose a threat to white supremacists who believed that because Obama is black, he would ensure that black teachers replaced the white teachers in some schools in white neighborhoods. This negative campaigning was aimed at ganging up the whites against his candidature on the basis that he would favor blacks more if elected.
His wife and then-First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama was not spared either as she received a lot of disrespectful bashing online, much of which touched on her race and gender. It would start with a simple message posted on Facebook or Twitter, and the same would be shared and re-shared. Within no time and regardless the truthfulness or accuracy of the post, the message would often spread like wildfire.
In the recent past, FBI unearthed several online groups that spread racist news against Muslims in the United States. This is as a result of an upsurge in both internal and external attacks targeting Americans. For example, as per a report released in 2016, there were more than 5,800 hate groups in 2015. Coincidentally, 2015 was the year with the highest number of recorded attacks on Muslims.
In October 2017, another case of racism hit the news after several photos of Baltimore area students emerged online. One of the photos had a racist slogan and another had a person dressed in a prison uniform with the name of Freddie Gray written on the back. The third photo showed a man with some offensive racist images and messages on it.
To protect their image due to the backlash the photos elicited, the management boards of Baltimore schools like Roland Park country and Gilman school denied any involvement in those postings.
On realization of the magnitude of hatred and racial discrimination propagated through social media sites, respective companies have come up with several regulations to curb the problem, but it has proved a bit difficulty – mostly due to the number of subscribers in those sites. For example, Facebook has over two billion users online, and this poses a challenge in monitoring the activities of each subscriber.
Nevertheless, Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in tackling this challenge as they have been proactive about blocking or deleting accounts known for spreading hate. In spite of official efforts to stop the spread of hate, some online users have resorted to using codes and symbols to beat the system, and this helps them to do it without being detected by the monitoring software.
Other sites, such as No-Nazi.net, have been vital in the fight against racial prejudice. No-Nazi.net teaches users how to identify and respond to harmful online activities. The site also urges users to be proactive in the fight against racial discrimination and not to ignore racist messages. The site also offers users a platform to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences on racism.
In light of the highlighted instances of hate and racism, it is now evident that some social media sites are indeed acting as a catalyst for spreading hate messages online.
Meet the writer: Melissa Cartew is an enthusiastic young freelance writer, with more than 4 years of writing experience.
She has obtained a degree in Political and totally agrees with Plato’s statement “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.