Tech firms criticised for reactions to #BlackLivesMatter movement

  • Photo: Black Lives Matter protest in Liverpool. (Image: Andrew Teebay/Liverpool Echo)

    Protests and riots ensue across the US following the death of George Floyd, at the hands of US police in Minneapolis on 25 May. 

    Since then, multiple companies across the globe have been ‘showing their solidarity’ with the #BlackLivesMatter movement across social media.

    But many individuals and outlets online have been calling such businesses out, for “performative wokeness”, a phrase used by Dr Chris Gilliard who writes that tech giants caring about Black Lives Matter is too little, too late.

    He added, “many of these companies generate profit either by exploiting black labour and/or by amplifying hate and extremism that directly harms black folks.”

    Dr Gilliard suggests that organisations such as YouTube and Facebook are ‘hypocritical’ because they allow wide varieties “of racist and violent content” to be uploaded to their platforms.

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    Amazon also came under fire when its founder, Jeff Bezos wrote an Instagram post that says: “The pain and emotional trauma caused by the racism and violence we are witnessing toward the Black community has a long reach.”

    Dr Gilliard writes that Amazon is “notoriously hostile to organised labour” and criticised its US police-partnered Ring Doorbell initiative and Neighbours platform, which he quotes “has helped to develop a widespread surveillance network and turned people’s fear of the racialized “other” invading their neighbourhood into a booming business.”

    Facebook claimed it is donating $10m to groups fighting racial inequality, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg writing “We stand with the black community” in a Facebook post on Sunday.

    However, the social media goliath has faced widespread scrutiny as it failed to attach any warning label to posts by US President Donald Trump that stated, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

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    Microblogging site Twitter did censor these posts by the president, saying that it “glorifies violence”, but  Zuckerberg has said his company "read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force."

    Twitter has also added the "#BlackLivesMatter" slogan to its official bio, and on Sunday presented a list of accounts for users to hear more from "marginalised groups."

    It pledged to have under-represented minorities make up a quarter of its US workforce by 2025, in a statement earlier this year.

    News site, CNN Business wrote that while it has normally always had a neutral stance when it comes to political matters, “Twitter, almost overnight, decided to get its hands dirty. In other words, it started actually enforcing its own policies when they are violated by the president.”

    CNN delved further into what these implications meant for the social media site, suggesting that it is now at war with the White House, which “reposted the same language hours later in an apparent attempt to further test Twitter's limits.”

    Twitter added a warning label onto that tweet as well.  

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    Now take Instagram – the photo networking app became a sea of black grids yesterday as 'Blackout Tuesday' took prominence worldwide. Users simply posted a black square to their profiles with the #blackouttuesday hashtag to show solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Although, many were encouraged to remove the #blacklivesmatter hashtag from these posts as it meant many other posts pertaining important information about racism and the situation in the US were then difficult to find when using this or the #BLM hashtag.

    Before this, many Instagram users reported having a 'post blocked' message in the app after trying to post something with the hashtag.

    Instagram claimed in a Tweet that this was due to its anti-spam technology that arises on the platform due to the sheer number of posts using one hashtag, but followed up by writing “We want to be clear that using #blacklivesmatter is supported and celebrated on Instagram, and we are moving quickly to ensure voices using this hashtag are heard".

    The company didn’t clarify how long the issues will continue to last. Micro-video app TikTok was also condemned for similar occurrences happening on its platform. 

    More tech conglomerates that have posted messages of support for the black community also include Google, Doordash, Reddit, Uber, Nextdoor and Lyft, among a multitude of others, which too have faced backlash from certain users online.

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    Sources: Evening Standard, Fast Company, CNN, CNN Business

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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