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Black History Month Through the Social Media Lens


Amid Black History Month, online hate highlights the need for vigilant moderation to foster inclusive digital spaces. Let's unite to cleanse social feeds of bigotry, championing equality and respect.

In a month designed to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans, this year’s celebration of black history sadly kicked off in very disgraceful manner. The first week of February we witnessed more than a dozen HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), receiving bomb threats that were timed to specifically align with the beginning of the month.

While these types of actions are shocking and repulsive, as we use February as time of reflection, it’s important to recognize the pervasive and continual injustices that African Americans endure every day in person and in other ways, namely online.

Online hate directed at African Americans takes place in several ways, but two that stand out are attacks directed at professional athletes and those directed at consumer brands when they specifically support black causes.

For example, last summer during the Euro Final, three soccer players for the England national team – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – were verbally abused with hundreds of thousands of racist, violent and hateful social media comments.

In fact, Respondology works with many professional sports teams whose athletes suffer this abuse. Top racing brand NASCAR has been embroiled in an especially racially charged couple of years. Bubba Wallace has shed light on the state of strained racial relations in the auto racing community. On Average, we hide 31% of comments for the NASCAR brand, proving to be one of our higher volume moderation clients.

Similarly, brands who support BLM or George Floyd or even Black History Month are often derided in the comments section of social media feeds with offensive, vulgar posts. In reviewing the comment activity of one of our clients whose posts expressed support of Black History Month vs comments made by the brand with no support, we saw an 8% hide rate increase of the supportive comments, indicating that the brands support drew negative, racially motivated comments.

Respondology is at the forefront of social media moderation and keeps close watch on all forms of online hate speech, abuse, spam and bots that invade and threaten social streams.  Our team tracks specific activity as well and takes action by removing these comments.

In Black History Month last year, Respondology found that comparing January and February 2021, the number of racially charged comments increased by a dreadful 32%. In fact, a full 4% of the offensive comments that they hide for clients through technology and human moderation, are overtly racist in nature. We can only hope that 2022 reflects more positive numbers and less vitriol than 2021.

Unbelievably enough, we are nearing the beginning of the third year of the Covid pandemic, despite people making efforts to emerge from their homes, many are still spending significant time looking at devices and engaging in dialogue on social media. Certainly, this lends to some people leveraging the anonymity of social media to be offensive and abusive. With many of our clients in the sports world we certainly find that social media amplifies the hate.  One racist comment can inspire 5-10 more, much to our chagrin, hate begets hate. Most troubling is the potential effect on our youth. Seemingly (and hopefully) without intent, social media has enormously strong influence on the youth who follow many of these athletes and teams. We must do what we can to reduce the impact of online racism and toxicity on them, the athletes themselves and society as a whole.

On a hopeful note, the landscape is changing. For athletes, sports teams, leagues and consumer brands alike, conducting good social media comment moderation to cleanse social feeds and make them more comfortable and welcoming for fans and customers, is quickly becoming an industry best practice.

As we use this month to underscore and celebrate the achievements of African Americans, we continue to do everything we can to reduce the racism and vulgarities that hinder interaction, with the intent of promoting a more productive social discourse.

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