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  • Writer's pictureDeseré Cross Ward, M.Ed.

“Algorithms are racist.” 🙊

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Jimmy Fallon

“Algorithms are racist.”

I marinated over that statement before responding to my friend who was expressing her frustration over how YouTube prioritizes content featuring white creators.

“Really, why do you say that?” 🤔

She went on to explain her experience as a YouTube influencer and how hard it has been to build subscribers and rack up views on her channel. She claimed the algorithm makes it even more difficult for Black creators to have their content seen. It wasn’t until I had my own experience with racist algorithms that I learned for myself just how biased they can be.

For five years, I worked at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin as a social media strategist. While there I had the pleasure of promoting our amazing students on the university’s social media channels, as well as on the UT president’s accounts. When this post was first written, the president was doing a series showcasing conversations he’d had with first-year students whose first two semesters in college looked very different from the traditional in-person college experience due to COVID-19. For this series, President Hartzell spoke with three different students, a Latina (Lila), a Black man (Quinten) and another male student (Rodney) whose race is ambiguous but definitely non-white. As I tweeted segments of the president’s conversations with the students, I noticed that Lila and Rodney’s videos were easily racking up upwards to 3,000 views, while I could barely get Quinten’s interview segments to push past 2,000 views 🤯. As I tried to fathom why this may be, I thought back to the conversation I had with my friend. Maybe algorithms are racist!

Well if algorithms are racists, I was determined to beat it! For the next Quinten segment, I made sure to retweet it from all the accounts I managed and gave it a second push with quote tweets. The result? I was finally able to get Quinten’s video more than 3,000 views 🙌🏽, but it took way more effort than what was required to promote Lila and Rodney. Why is that? There could be a lot of reasons, but the fact that these videos were created with the same template, branding and messaging, makes me wonder how much Twitter’s algorithm was really working against me.

It’s no secret that white reigns supreme in our society while Blacks are consistently overlooked. Think I’m speaking hyperbole? Take Jimmy Fallon for example. In March, Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” received criticism after it featured TikTok star Addison Rae teaching Fallon eight viral TikTok dances without crediting the mostly Black creators of the dances.

screen shot of Jimmy Fallon tweet about 8 TikTok dances with @whoisaddison

Here’s a snapshot of what Twitter had to say….

@Gimmefangs: Stealing from black entertainers and having white "creators" regurgitate it to the masses is American history 101.

@tanyachen: This is cringey. But what's worse is that Addison has been catapulted to being the face of viral dances created by mostly black tiktokers

@ginfueledbrat: This would have been the perfect opportunity for you to lead by example and in giving Black creators their due credit. This opportunity could have been huge for them. But no, you chose to display a white girl who's already got a damn career doing this shit. This sucks, do better.

As @gimmefangs points out, white America ain't new to dis, they true to dis when it comes to appropriating Black culture and profiting off of it while Black people reap the crumbs of their labor.

So where does this leave us? For creators like my friend and the Black choreographers of TikTok, it means working twice as hard to get half the views, likes, and recognition. For social media managers, it means going above and beyond to amplify Black stories and voices from the accounts you manage. And for Jimmy Fallon and white people in general, it means crediting Black creators, which Jimmy ended up doing after Black Twitter drug him and his show through digital mud. 🙃

If you are creating content featuring Black individuals and need some help getting the social media engagement your content deserves, hit up TwoWards Solutions for a free consultation; we'd be more than happy to discuss how we can help you fight racist algorithms!

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