Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Listening to Black Women: Innovation Technology Can’t Crack

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In his short story personal internet history, Hiding place, Joanne McNeil argues that the mess Big Tech finds itself in is largely due to its insistence on designing and creating users rather than for people. The problem is particularly visible among blacks. Computer narratives of existence, where metrics and nebulous data lead to monetization, do not match the experiences of black people.

Tech journalism exists, in theory, to solve these problems by holding industry accountable, through access and insight. The problem is compounded, however, by the fact that black people have historically been seen neither as the authors nor the audiences for tech journalism. For centuries, the stories of countless black experiences with technology have been lost or poorly preserved. Black creation seen as content and catalyst has been deeply incompatible with the conventions of technology and its discourse. This incompatibility, although nothing new, fails blacks on purpose, and this failure has damaged us all.

The constant surveillance of blacks today, as Simone Browne illustrates in Dark questions, goes back to the laws of the lanterns of the slave codes and to the theory of the panopticon of the eighteenth century, the prison that sees everything. Much of tech journalism has broadened the lens of the panopticon, especially “ReportsOn Interacting With Blacks Online. In 2010, Gizmodo offered an unsettling precedent for how Black Twitter would be covered: “Why am I stalking a sexy black woman“And his follow-up”So this hipster shower stalks a sexy black woman on Twitter. Black use of social media has become a thing for tech companies and tech journalism like mine, and in a voyeuristic way. The creators of opportunistic technologies, never missing a chance to make the same mistake more than once, have built tools like and, which scrape and retain the lists and Twitter accounts of the traditional milieu of these outside users. With articles and products like these, one can ‘diversify’ and collect ‘new experiences’ rather than hiring black writers or covering black experiences in context. The message becomes: you need to be aware of what black people are doing, but you don’t have to talk to them. New platforms like Clubhouse reinforce this model, using black user content without investing in infrastructure, to disturbing results.

Browne’s historical basis makes the repetitive nature of these missteps all the more striking. “Toxic Twitter”, for example, is the title of a Amnesty International report on online abuse, which black women suffer from disproportionate. One of the earliest names for Toxic Twitter is a 2014 cover in The nation This suggested that black women’s resistance to racism in feminism may be worse than actual racism. Racist representations of black women throughout history and blatantly on social networks repeat this failure of power analysis and historical context. Terminology is changing (generally appropriate for black cultural creators) – culture cancellation, bad speech, etc. – but the arguments without context remain the same. Where the racism of making black women synonymous with “toxic” and “cancel” spreads and unequivocal power imbalances from avowed racists and people trying to stay alive. Last summer, a letter Harper’s deploring “the culture of cancellation” has generated multiple interviews and interventions for its millionaire signatories, who fear the end of the “open debate”. Meanwhile, marginalized young journalists, especially young black women, are barely cited anywhere in the media, even when kicked out of newsrooms alarming rate.

When tech media isn’t used to listening to black women, tech users don’t realize black women aren’t real. MSNBC recently revealed that Russian agents pretended to be black to spread disinformation. Black women have been telling this forgery for years. Even though black women were the first to expose the alternative right six years long ago their work and the alarms they sounded remain uncredited and unheard of. Platforms often take weeks to intercept the targeted harassment of Black woman, to the point that other users simply describing the abuse and the delay in intervention are targeted.


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