What N-Tech does not mention is that this technology is especially useful to law enforcement and immigration officials and can even be used at mass sporting and cultural events to monitor streaming video feed.52 This shows how multicultural representation, marketed as an individualistic and fun experience, can quickly turn into criminalizing misrepresentation. While some companies such as NTech are already being adopted for purposes of policing, other companies, for example “Diversity Inc,” which I will introduce in the next chapter, are squarely in the ethnic marketing business, and some are even developing techniques to try to bypass human bias. What accounts for this proliferation of racial codification?
Why Now? Today the glaring gap between egalitarian principles and inequitable practices is filled with subtler forms of discrimination that give the illusion of progress and neutrality, even as coded inequity makes it easier and faster to produce racist outcomes. Notice that I said outcomes and not beliefs, because it is important for us to assess how technology can reinforce bias by what it does, regardless of marketing or intention. But first we should acknowledge that intentional and targeted forms of White supremacy abound!
As sociologist Jessie Daniels documents, White nationalists have ridden the digital wave with great success. They are especially fond of Twitter and use it to spread their message, grow their network, disguise themselves online, and generate harassment campaigns that target people of color, especially Black women.53 Not only does the design of such platforms enable the “gamification of hate” by placing the burden on individual users to report harassers; Twitter’s relatively hands-off approach when it comes to the often violent and hate-filled content of White supremacists actually benefits the company’s bottom
This is a business model in which more traffic equals more profit, even if that traffic involves violently crashing into other users – as when Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones received constant threats of rape and lynching after noted White supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos rallied a digital mob against her: a high-profile example of the macro- aggressions that many Black women experience on social media every day.54 In Daniels’ words, “[s]imply put, White supremacists love Twitter because Twitter loves them back.”55 Jones for her part reached out to her friend, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey; and Dorsey is now considering artificial intelligence (AI) of the kind used on Instagram to identify hate speech and harassment.
And, while the use of social media to amplify and spread obvious forms of racial hatred is an ongoing problem that requires systematic interventions, it is also the most straightforward to decode, literally. For example, White supremacists routinely embed seemingly benign symbols in online content, cartoon characters or hand signs, that disseminate and normalize their propaganda. However, these are only the most visible forms of coded inequity in which we can identify the intentions of self-proclaimed racists. The danger, as I see it, is when we allow these more obvious forms of virulent racism to monopolize our attention, when the equivalent of slow death – the subtler and even alluring forms of coded inequity – get a pass. My book hopes to focus more of our attention on this New Jim Code.