Published On : Tue, Aug 8th, 2017

Why Facebook’s racism problem might never be solved

Nagpur: It is so common and easy to be socially connected to each other via internet, and social networking sites. Last week, Ijeoma Oluo was in the middle of a road trip with her kids when her phone started to blow up.

“My Facebook app couldn’t keep up and kept crashing,” Oluo told Salon. Initially unbeknownst to Oluo, a benign tweet of hers had gotten picked up by racist trolls, who sensationalized her words to suit their own delusions, then advertised her online profiles to others to the world to spread hate. The trolls came in droves: first, to her Twitter, which luckily filtered out many of the worst comments, and then for her Facebook, which didn’t.

“I’m trying to adjust from this place of relaxation and family, and then this is happening on the road,” Oluo said. “And then it felt kind of ridiculous and funny in a way, it was just so extreme. I’ve never gotten that much hate before. And I just couldn’t really be that upset anymore — I couldn’t even process it.”

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Dealing with the absurdity of it all, Oluo started reporting the racist and hateful tweets to moderators. “People call[ed] me a monkey, half-breed, cunt,” Oluo elaborated. As someone who often writes about race, this kind of abuse was boilerplate for Oluo — even if the sheer volume of it wasn’t. “I mean, I know I live in America and people hate me because I’m black,” she said. While trying to enjoy what was supposed to be a pleasant vacation, Oluo was playing Whac-a-Mole with trolls.

“They have pretty clear rules, Twitter does — you can report things that violate the terms,” she told Salon. In all the accounts she reported, “Twitter either took their comments down or blocked the account. And with [Twitter’s] quality filter on, I couldn’t even see the comments. And for me that helps.”

Ever optimistic, Oluo saw the verbal attacks as a chance to shed some light on the kind of everyday abuse marginalized people experience online. “This happens to people of color, transgender people, women . . . anything that the status quo doesn’t like, this is happening to them all the time,” Oluo said. So she screenshotted a couple of the hateful comments and posted them on her Facebook, a teachable moment.

— Sanket Wankhede