Segments of our society assume that our culture embraced a post-racial community after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This monumental legislation marked the legal end to segregation and discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. While overt discrimination became illegal as a result of this Act, it also ushered in a new type of racism that proved to be a pervasive and subtle type of discrimination took the lead and “enabled systems of oppression and disenfranchisement to remain intact while making public acknowledgement of race and prejudice a social taboo” (Noble, pg 244). This new style of discrimination and racism came in the form of linguistics codes with a “nod here, a wink there, and a subtle change in intonation all mark opinions and thoughts on race” (Joesy, 2010). Jump forward to the advent of the internet and the perception that it provided a “color-free” community and we soon see a new dynamic unfold that negatively impacts marginalized groups with misrepresentations and stereotypes amplified in a new medium.
Much of the content on the internet is driven my users that participate on platforms such as facebook, instagram, twitter and many more. These are simply platforms that give users a space to share their thoughts and images to the world and provides the opportunity to give users a space to expand their community and reach others that lie outside of their own. These platforms can be a great source of pedagogy and can connect users across the globe. However, the monitoring of these platforms for hate speech and deleterious misrepresentations is controlled within each company and their operating procedures while being weighted against profit maximizing decisions. Many of these companies outsource the monitoring and provide guidelines to recognize harmful images or speech. Even with guidelines in place, it leaves much of the discretion to the individual that has their own implicit bias that undoubtedly plays a role in their decision making process. What is clearly a harmful meme or picture to one person, can be shrugged off as just having fun to another. This has empowered some segments to step in where the companies have shirked their responsibilities.
Marginalized groups have been reclaiming identities on the internet by using the same mechanisms used against them to “critique and speak back to the (mis)represenations in the media” (Tanksley, pg 246). Black women and girls are notoriously presented in a negative manner in the media yet they have created a dialogue online that empowers and reclaims their identities. This is a significant movement that will hopefully insulate young black girls and women against “extensive exposure to raced and gendered stereotypes, or microaggressions” which can lower their self-esteem (Noble, pg 252).
The regulation over online spaces is in constant flux. Our political landscape continues to change and our online presence is shaped by these rules and regulations that seem invisible to the user or content provider. Hate speech, racist tropes and misrepresentations are abundant in online platforms and have been on the rise with the current political atmosphere. Where racists tropes were once suppressed to a wink or a nod, there are now full blown harmful stereotypical racists images and words in online platforms with the goal of taking us back in history. “The internet doesn’t reflect reality anymore, it creates reality” (Kakutani, pg 88).
Josey, Christopher. Hate speech and identity: An analysis of neo racism and the indexing of identity. Discourse & Society, 21(1) 27–39, 2010, Champagne, USA. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.proxy.library.oregonstate.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0957926509345071
Kakutani, Michiko. The Death of Truth. New York, Tim Duggan Books, 2018.
Noble, Safiya Umoja, and Brendesha M. Tynes, editors. The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online. New edition edition, Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2016.