Tech platforms vowed to address racial equity: how have they fared?
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and Amazon issued statements in response to Black Lives Matter this year but did they follow through?
Following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality, some of the largest technology corporations waded into the anti-racism movement with slickly worded corporate declarations that “Black Lives Matter”.
Those tech platforms are now facing increased pressure to back those promises with action – both on and off their platforms.Pinterest’s $22m settlement with executive is a ‘slap in the face’, Black former workers sayRead more
“The bar is high, and the real focus now is seeing what is going to happen beyond the public statements,” said Yumeka Rushing, chief strategy officer at the NAACP. “This isn’t a moment, it’s a movement, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to move the needle on systemic racism.”
Here’s which companies are doing and not doing to follow through on their commitments to diversity and antiracism in 2020.
What they promised: The company committed to increasing the number of black people in leadership positions by 30% in the next five years and doubling the number of black and Latinx employees overall by 2023.
What they’ve done so far: Facebook committed more than $200m to support black businesses and organizations. That comes as part of a total investment from Facebook of $1.1bn in black and diverse suppliers and communities in the US, according to a Facebook spokesman. It committed an additional $10m to racial justice organizations, including non-profits that help people of color in legal and professional spheres. It also launched an internal diversity council consisting of 18 employees that will meet quarterly to consult on content policies, product and other programs.
The company in 2020 rolled out changes to hate speech enforcement on the platform, including prohibiting a wider range of hate speech in ads and banned content depicting blackface from the site. More changes are rumored to be on the horizon but have not yet been formally announced.
“While there is always more to do in pursuit of equality and racial justice, we will continue to listen, learn and take action to support the Black community,” said Bertie Thomson, a spokesman for Facebook.
Ongoing criticisms: Despite strides in its handling of misinformation, Facebook still faces criticism for allowing hate speech on the platform and for not strictly enforcing bans on calls to violence, whether they are from the president of the United States or private groups organizing militias and off-site violence.
“I am wholly unimpressed with its approach overall, and I remain concerned that they refuse to take claims of people calling for violence seriously,” said Jessica J González, co-founder anti hate speech group Change the Terms.
Change the Terms was one of several groups that organized an advertiser boycott of Facebook that ultimately led to many of the policy changes implemented this year. González said Facebook’s years-long inactionmakes it difficult for the company to catch up to standards expected by groups like hers.
“The reason that we had to push Facebook so hard this year in the first place was because they utterly failed for years,” she said. “They have been shockingly selfish and devoted to the bottom line above all else.”
Facebook has also has been called on by former content moderators, who are disproportionately people of color, to improve their benefits and treatments.
What they promised: In June 2020 Twitter further committed to diverse hires, aiming for women to represent half of its workforce by 2025 and for “underrepresented minorities” to comprise 25% of its US workforce. As of May 2020 women represented just 42% of its workforce, Latinx at 5.1% and black representation reached 6.3%.
What they’ve done so far: The company in 2020 banned a number of well-known racists from the platform, including David Duke, the leader of US hate group the Ku Klux Klan whose presence on the platform had been criticized for more than a decade. It also banned the former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has been criticized for espousing racist and sexist viewsand for threatening violence on the platform.
It also became one of the first platforms to address blatant lies andcalls for violence tweeted byDonald Trump when it censored his tweet calling for the shooting of people “looting” after protests.
In December Twitter announced it would now include “race, ethnicity, national origin, and caste” as categories protected in its dehumanization policy, after more than a year of pressure from the civil rights group Color of Change.
The company committed $100m in investment plus an additional $1m grant to the Opportunity Finance Network’s Finance Justice Fund in an aim to bring capital and investment to America’s most underserved communities.
Ongoing criticisms: Off the platform, Twitter has committed to diverse hiring practices, and the company admittedly made many strides in 2020 towards addressing concerns raised for years by activists. But it faces continued criticism for failing to address a large amount of hate speech on the platform and allowing misinformation to circulate, especially in recent weeks.
“Twitter did a decent job this year but it does seem like they just gave up after the election got called by major media,” González of Change the Terms said.
What they promised: The company announced a $100m creators’ fund to help “amplify” black creators and artists.
What they’ve done so far: A number of videos have come out of the creators’ fund. Also this year, YouTube suspended the account of the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes. It also suspended other white nationalist and extremist channels, including those associated with American Renaissance, Richard Spencer, Stefan Molyneux and David Duke.
YouTube said starting in 2021 it will ask creators to share, on a voluntary basis, their gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity to allow the company to more closely examine search and discovery on the platform as well as monetization as they relate to race.
As of 3 December, the company is testing a new feature to automatically filter inappropriate and hurtful comments before creators have to read them. It will soon launch a feature that automatically flags comments for offensive language and prompts a user to reconsider before posting.
Ongoing criticisms: The video platform has been a breeding ground for racism in the past, giving rise to an entire ecosystem of far-right influencers. In June, a group of black creators sued YouTube for racial discrimination, alleging the company limits how much they can earn from advertisers. YouTube has been widely criticized for its lack of action on misinformation surrounding the 2020 elections and only made substantial changes relating to the issue in days following the national vote.
What they promised: Google committed to improving leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30% by 2025. Google’s workforce is 51.7% white and 3.7% black, according to its 2020 diversity report. It also promised to “do more to address representation challenges ” by hiring new people in positions dedicated to the progression and retention of Googlers “from underrepresented groups”.
What they’ve done so far: Google made a series of financial commitments to improve racial equity totaling more than $350m, including financing and grants for black business owners, funding for education in the tech world, and cash donations to non-profits.
Ongoing criticisms: Google has been criticized in the past for the lack of racial diversity among its staff, as well as for racial bias in its algorithms. It has also faced criticism from its own employees over partnerships with police forces, including being a donor to the Seattle police department. In December more than 1,000 workers at Google condemned the company for its firing of a black ethics expert after she accused the company of censorship and criticized the way it treated her and other staff of underrepresented backgrounds.
What they promised: Under pressure from activists, the company announced a one-year moratorium on selling its facial recognition technology to police forces. Set a goal to double the representation of black VPs and directors at Amazon in 2020 again in 2021.
What they’ve done so far: Amazon has donated $10m to social justice organizations related to civil rights issues and fighting racism and appointed a number of diverse candidates to top leadership positions in recent months including Alicia Boler Davis, Raymond Leon Roker and Ukonwa Ojo.
“At Amazon, we’re constantly learning and innovating – and our long-term efforts in diversity and inclusion are no different,” a spokeswoman told the Guardian.
Ongoing criticisms: Amid a racially charged movement to defund the police, the company faces continued criticism for its partnerships with police through its smart doorbell Ring, which allows police to request footage and images from citizens’ doorbells. There are currently more than 1,400 police partnerships with Ring in the US. In the six months since Floyd was killed, Amazon has established more than 280 new partnerships with local police departments.
“Saying the right thing, and doing the right thing, are two different things,” said Steven Renderos, executive director of MediaJustice. “If tech platforms are serious about ending systemic racism, they should also be serious about not arming the police with tools to engage in systemic surveillance.”
Amazon has also faced labor complaints from employees of color. In July a worker named Hibaq Mohamed in Minnesota made waves after it was revealed that managers at her facility had targeted her repeatedly with what appeared to be bogus time off task violations, including for Covid-related precautions such as hand-washing that Amazon had previously said wouldn’t be held against workers’ time off quotas. She is still just one warning away from being fired. More than a dozen workers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods have also filed a lawsuit claiming they were fired for wearing Black Lives Matters masks.