Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't expect all discussions of race online to be worth coverage

I wanted to explore something expressed by Yumi Wilson in her article published by SPJ's Quill online. In it she argues that the mainstream media is delegating racial coverage to the op-ed page only and that, "[r]eporters should turn to Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts and other online sources for ideas and tips on the latest developments in stories related to race and racial identity."

This struck me as odd immediately. If anything racial discussions are the last thing I'd turn to the Internet for discussion. In a web dominated by two sentence tweets and quick comments, the web encourages people to speak quickly. Strong statements get noticed, and this can lead to polarization. A study released by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that "55 percent of all Web users feel that the Internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views" (thanks to Social Times).
This is certainly true in the halls of Social Media, but things can be even worse in anonymous communities. I'll have the gall to point the finger at 4Chan, the anonymous image sharing community. I think the point is best summarized by Phil Yu of the Angry Asian Man Blog, speaking at a SXSWi panel on race and social media (transcription):

"When you give people a voice anonymously, it empowers them to spread hate."
It's not that 4Chan is a meeting ground for racial e-terrorists, it's more that anonymity allows immature people to bring out their subtle racist tendencies for
misguided humor. Obviously, you don't want to mistake this as a racial discussion.

There is one thing about the Internet that is refreshing when it comes to discussions of race. The most revolting content often rises to the top, uniting the people of the web to openly turn against it in a large ritual shaming. Take for example this racist rant on Asians in the UCLA library by Patty Push-Up-Bra (not her real name) with several million views and dozens of parodies:

If it's our job to call people out on being racist, then the web might be a good place for us. You'll have to dive deep to find substantive discussions though.

-Niklos Salontay

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