This week’s readings dedicated to digital activism and the consequences of algorithmic filtering brought about connections to a social media wide hashtag I will be participating in this Friday called #BlackOutDay. Friday, March 6th all Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vine users are encouraged to post and re- post positive depictions of Black people all day long. The demonstration was first intended for Black Tumblr users to combat the under representation most of us feel when combing through tags on the site. On Tumblr “notes” are like currency and give a post immortality as it is liked and re-blogged throughout the site while being seen by its 225.5 million blog-owners and countless lurkers. But often when I hit up the trending page that shows the post with the most notes, I don’t see people quite like me. Today, there was Beyonce and Kanye among the cats, SoundCloud, One Direction and other popular post but when it came to just regular people I only saw White women. Pictures of women in cute midriff barring outfits, with floral crowns and awe worthy eyebrows that could have easily been women of color but were just not. #BlackOutDay creator Expect-the-greatest.tumblr.com , echoed the same sentiment and was compelled to do something about it:
I got inspired to propose Blackout day after thinking “Damn, I’m not seeing enough Black people on my dash”. Of course I see a constant amount of Black celebrities but what about the regular people? Where is their shine? When I proposed it, I thought people would think it was a good idea, but not actually go through with implementing it. Luckily people wanted to get behind the idea, and @recklessthottie created the #Blackout tag…We need a unified agreeance that ALL black people are beautiful and worthy of praise and admiration, and Blackout day is a step towards that.
Tumblr’s main page is an example of the impact algorithm filtering have on what we see and #BalckOutDay is how we can unite as communities to take control of the algorithms. Zeynp Tufecki explains in her article What happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson: Net Neutrality, Algorithmic Filtering, and Ferguson: ” … algorithmic filtering, as a layer controls what you see on the internet. Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention , coverage ad control.
The problem with algorithms is that they are a representation of the systemic deficiencies in media representations of minorities that have already been in place for ions. If you had trusted your Facebook alone the night Ferguson erupted after the non-indictment announcement, you would have thought the story was not a top “trending” issue just like if I had trusted my Tumblr mainpage alone,Id think people like me don’t exist.
Professor Noble cautioned in her lecture to us the other week the importance of recognizing algorithms as not these infallible, all knowing representations of what you are looking for. The sad truth is that because the average person does not know the way an algorithm works exactly there are higher levels of trust in that technology than there should be. With demonstrations like #BlackOutDay and the passing of Net Neutrality we can usher in response to these oversights and be in charge of what we want to see.