Black people USE the internet. But white people OWN it.
Anti-Black Algorithms & political censorship.
“Uh, lies told to you
Through YouTubes and Hulus
Shows with no hues that look like you do
Black Twitter, what’s that?
When Jack gets paid, do you?
~ Jay-Z (Entrepreneur)
** This article was first published in February 2021 in the HAPI film community newsletter.
Are Black people doomed to remain the digital sharecroppers of the internet? Let’s discuss. Earlier this week it was announced that the new voice chat app, Clubhouse, raised around $100 million, for their 9-month old startup, at a $1 billion post-money valuation. Seeing these numbers, one might be tempted to ask how can a 9-month old company, with zero-dollars in revenue, be valued at a billion-dollars? Well, the answer is simple. In the attention-based economy, content is king, and Black users of media apps like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have built these companies virtual content reservoirs, FOR FREE, that translates into hundreds of millions, annually, in advertising revenue.
Not only are Black users the leading content creators on these apps, they’re also the leading content consumers. The internet, much like the real world, has shown that Black consumption habits continue to trend in a direction that enrich other communities, at the expense of our own. The irony here is as Black consumption patterns continue to rise, companies are now spending less to reach this population. Said differently, advertisers are spending the least amount of ad-spend, on the segment of their population that consumes the most, making Black social media users the most profitable segment on the internet.
Black people truly are “where the money resides.” Where Black users go, white money follows, amassing fortunes for tech founders from other communities. Meanwhile, the projects of Black tech founders go unfunded by the Silicon Valley ecosystem and receive very little support from their own community. The most egregious slap in the face, is the treatment Black users receive on these apps, after we build them up. Our accounts are frequently suspended, content is censored, and the algorithms are manipulated to determine which Black users are allowed to amass an audience.
In this 21st century game of digital sharecropping, it appears Black people have once again accepted the short end of the stick. We’ve locked ourselves into the position of the perpetual renters, and mindless consumers that make the internet go round. There is literally nothing we can do on the internet without making the white landowners rich. If we need an email, we go to google. If we need a website, we rent one from GoDaddy. If we need cloud storage, we rent some from Amazon. If we need hosting space, we rent it from BlueHost, etc. etc. etc. We literally own none of the digital landscape, but continually make other communities rich by our presence and consumption.
And the moment we say something they don’t like, they can take it all from us, including our domain names. With the power of technocrats now out pacing the robber barons of the gilded age, these social media content syndicates are strong enough to silence any voice they don’t want heard on their platforms; from Donald Trump to Rizza Islam. For a community that has been historically silenced, and ignored for so long, you would think building and controlling our own internet ecosystem (i.e., black owned servers, cloud space, domain names, etc.) would be a priority.
It’s time we recognize our value and use it to enrich ourselves, and regain control of our voices.
Omowale Afrika is a writer, independent film maker, and grassroots organizer from the Philadelphia area. You can learn more about his work, by visiting his website at www.omowaleafrika.com