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Tech companies say they support racial justice. Their actions raise questions

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Protesters demanding justice for George Floyd have been pouring into the streets of cities across the country since Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. Among the voices condemning Floyd’s death and supporting the ongoing protests are those from tech giants including Facebook, Google and Amazon.

“The pain of the past week reminds us of how far our country must go to give every person the freedom to live in dignity and peace,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Sunday post announcing a $ 10 million donation to “groups working on racial justice.” “We support the black community – and all those working for justice in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others whose names will not be forgotten.

For memory:

2:00 p.m., 03 June 2020Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly described Macomb Community College as being in Massachusettes. It’s in Michigan.

But even as Zuckerberg composed (or at least approved of) these words, the employees of his company were organizing a work stopping on the decision not to delete President Trump’s message calling the protesters “thugs” and saying “when the looting begins, the shooting begins”.

Zuckerberg tried to calm the waters with a conference call that brought together leaders of several civil rights groups such as Color of Change, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. But attendees would have been disappointed with his response.

“What is clear from this meeting is that Mark has no real understanding of the history or current impact of voter suppression, racism or discrimination. He lives in a bubble and he stood up for all the decisions he made, ”said Robinson the Washington Post says.

This is not the first time that Facebook has been accused of having what an employee has memorably called “a black problem.” In 2018, Mark Luckie, the former head of strategic partners for Facebook’s global influencers, posted a publication denouncing the treatment of black users of the platform, including account suspensions and censorship, and detailing discrimination against black employees, who at the time made up only 4% of the workforce artwork.

Luckie described black Facebook employees discouraged by their managers from sharing comments and participating in internal groups and treated as suspects by campus security. “There is often more diversity in Keynote presentations than the teams presenting them,” he writes.

Asked to comment, Facebook referred to Zuckerberg’s statement.

Facebook isn’t the only tech company whose racial justice rhetoric hasn’t always lived up to the reality. Statements released in recent days by Amazon, Nextdoor, Google and others suggest a different picture than what is painted by business decisions and company personnel policies.

Amazon

What he said: “The inequitable and brutal treatment of black people in our country must end. Together, we stand in solidarity with the black community – our employees, customers and partners – in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.

What the record shows: At the center of protests demanding justice for Floyd are calls for police reform and an end to racist policing. Amazon has several contracts with law enforcement agencies. It should be noted in particular that Ring, Amazon’s home monitoring company, has entered into partnerships with at least 200 police services across the country, as Motherboard reported. As part of his contract with some police departments, Ring urged police to encourage citizens to adopt the company’s neighborhood watch app – which reported issues of racial profiling. After reviewing over 100 posts on the app, Motherboard found that the majority of people deemed “suspicious” by users were people of color.

“Given the reality of police violence, with impunity, which primarily affects people of color in the United States, this type of act threatens the lives of third parties who in some cases are simply doing their jobs or living in their own. neighborhood, ”Shahid Buttar, director of local advocacy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard.

Amazon also licenses facial recognition software, called Rekognition, to law enforcement. A study by the MIT Media Lab found that the software was less successful in identifying the gender of people with dark faces, although Amazon disputed the validity of the results. Other facial recognition algorithms have struggled to accurately identify non-white faces.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The next door

What he said: “Black Lives Matter. You’re not alone. Everyone should feel safe in their neighborhood. Achieve. Listen. Take action.”

What the record shows: Nextdoor users, who use the service to share and read information about their immediate neighborhoods, often post unaudited or unsupported reports of “mistrustful“People of color and blacks on its” crime and security “pages. The company has implemented product design and algorithmic changes that claim to detect racist language and help remove prejudice on the platform, but reports show it is still not effective.

Recently the company has started promoting their network for use by local law enforcement and government agencies. As part of its work with local law enforcement, the company has introduced a feature in some neighborhood groups that allows users to forward messages found in the “crime and security ”directly to the police.

Chris Gilliard, an English professor at Michigan’s Macomb Community College who studies digital privacy, said this type of user-generated surveillance can turn minor or non-criminal encounters into episodes involving law enforcement. “Surveillance often encourages ‘solutions’ that far exceed the level of the offense,” Gilliard wrote.

As protests against Floyd’s death spread across the United States, Nextdoor and Ring also served as vectors for a disinformation campaign, attributable in part to a white nationalist group, attempting to stoke fears of violence and destruction of property committed by antifa agitators.

“At Nextdoor, we want all neighbors to feel safe and welcome. We want to help change things for the better and we are committed to doing the hard work to make this reality happen, ”said company spokesperson Kim Samson.

Google

What General Manager Sundar Pichai Said: “Today, on the homepages of Google and YouTube in the United States, we share our support for racial equality in solidarity with the black community and in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others who have no say in the matter. For those who feel grief, anger, sadness and fear, you are not alone. “

What the record shows: Requests from Google employees for more diversity within the company contributed to a November 2018 Walk around by more than 20,000 people. In May, black employees made up just 5.5% of the company’s more than 100,000 employees worldwide. This is an increase from 4.8% in 2019. Current and former employees complain of continued discrimination. In September 2019, Leslie Miley, a black technical director, said he was interrogated by a white employee who blocked her entrance to their office and demanded to see her company badge even though it was visible. “It’s not easy to be black #GoogleMiley tweeted at the time.

Former and current employees who have strongly advocated for more diversity within the company also mentioned the lack of support from Google or action when they have been publicly harassed after their internal conversations and personal information were leaked to conservative and right-wing publications.

In May, NBC News reported Google has “dramatically reduced its diversity and inclusion initiatives in an apparent effort to avoid being seen as anti-conservative.”

Google has denied cutting the programs, claiming it is “maturing” them to “provide a scalable solution across the world.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Reddit

What CEO Steve Huffman wrote in a lengthy statement to users and employees of Reddit, “We are facing a crisis that has lasted for hundreds of years, which is sadly repetitive and will not be resolved overnight.” Among the responses he suggested was the amplification of conversations about the Black Lives Matter subroutine and the emphasis on black user safety (or “Redditors”).

What the record shows: Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit, was quick to respond to Huffman’s statement. “I have to call you: you should have shut down le_donald instead of amplifying it along with its hatred, racism and violence,” Pao tweeted, referring to a sub-reddit that has a long history of racist content. and misogynist and conspiracy theories. “Much of what is happening now is at your feet. You don’t have the option of saying BLM when reddit feeds and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day. ”

The subreddit was “quarantined” in 2019 when users posted “threats against police and public figures,” violating company violence policies. Despite calls to outright ban the subreddit, users could still access and comment, but could not accidentally stumble upon the posts. Pao, who in her time as chief executive banned five subreddits for harassment and was charged with censorship, resigned her job at the company and was replaced by Huffman.

Reddit declined to comment on the recording.

Times editor Suhauna Hussain contributed to this report.



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