It was when I watched the documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix when I realized that the most influential social media companies are built by white people with a capitalistic goal. The film was revelatory regarding the huge power these networks have over our lives on many levels, socially, culturally and politically. And the fact that they stem from the framework of the Western world, specifically the United States, means they’re inseparable from the culture of whiteness, the problem of systemic racism and a limitless belief in capitalism.
Therefore, the algorithm built by the tech companies incorporates human failings based on that foundation. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us then that the policies regarding censorship on the platforms also come from the same root of inequality. The documentary “Coded Bias” is worth watching in this regard and shows how researcher Joy Buolamwini pushes for the first-ever U.S. legislation against bias in algorithms.
Several social media users report on the fact that the current violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict comes with restrictions regarding the hashtags #Palestine and #FreePalestine. And luckily, more and more people speak out about that on their accounts.
I’m writing about it here because I follow Sudanese political cartoonist, civil rights activist and freelance journalist Khalid Al Baih on Instagram and he posted:
“Can white people please write about the proven censorship of Instagram and Facebook to posts about #Palestine because we don’t seem to matter”.
I felt addressed because I’ve learned throughout the years how immensely important it is that white people speak out about systemic racism and the culture of whiteness. In fact, I’m convinced that if we as white people aren’t able to look critically at ourselves and discuss with each other what it means to be white, there won’t change anything on a structural level regarding inequality and systemic racism.
We grow up in a world where white is the default, the superior race. And from that position of supremacy we hardly ever critically talk about the root of that position in our public discourse or among journalists. It’s the typical “blind spot” that’s been written about so much already in the context of racism. And that same blind spot is also at work when we talk about the issue of Israel-Palestine.
The main Western discourse about the state of Israel is that it’s a good initiative where Jewish people get rightful protection. But more and more people, also a lot of Jews, question the establishment of Israel because of the colonial traits involved and the human rights violations against the Palestinians.
Until I was eighteen years old I never really called the existence of Israel into question because it’s terrible what happened to the Jewish people in World War II so it seemed like a good idea that the (Western) world found a place where they can be safe. But I hardly ever realized that by giving them that place, other people had to leave. I spent a total of about five months living in Israel after I graduated highschool and that opened my eyes to the bizarre circumstances the country operates in. It took me another eight years or so and lots of chats with people educating me about the Palestinian side of the conflict before I was confident to speak out against Israel. It’s essential to see that it’s possible to grow up in a supposedly free world where parts of reality can be left out of the main narrative by mainstream media.
The roots of our capitalistic system are interlinked with the roots of systemic racism
So, what does capitalism have to do with this? Well, the core idea of capitalism is to make profit. A tech company like Facebook makes decisions based on that idea first. The main concern of Mark Zuckerberg isn’t global inequality, so to say. He wants to make money and he succeeds in that as he can call himself a billionaire already since age 23.
The roots of our capitalistic system are interlinked with the roots of systemic racism. When the goal is to always make more money, to create growth expressed not in an equal division of wealth but in terms of individualists who can become rich by themselves, there will always be a downside where people become a victim. There is no such thing as eternal growth without increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and exhausting the natural sources on our planet.
It’s therefore not so interesting to discuss whether it’s a deliberate policy of racism that Zuckerberg implemented in Facebook’s algorithms and policies, it’s much more interesting to accept the fact that this is the reality, naturally sprung from capitalism and it needs to be solved. But it also means that – especially white people – need to do more research about how the culture of whiteness has been laying the groundwork for the rise of capitalism, instead of always feeling personally offended regarding systemic racism.
Luckily the openness and connectedness that comes with the popularity of social networks makes it easier for everyone to address these issues and to educate ourselves in order to make a change. It also means that it gives us all a responsibility to speak out and look critically at our own actions. That’s why I felt like writing this blog and giving my view on the specific responsibility for white people to uncover our blind spots. We don’t need heroes or billionaires to lead us, we can be our own heroes and transform the world.