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Black viewpoints needed, actual black people need not apply
by Samara Lynn

If you follow Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, you may have noticed several prominent accounts that appear to be profiles belonging to black people–high up on his Twitter feed of responses. Some of these accounts have thousands and thousands of followers. Others even have the blue Twitter check mark next to their account names. Yet, exactly who is behind these accounts is ambiguous.

The rise of bots in the guise of black people on social media remains a worrisome issue heading into the 2020 elections.

Take for instance, the Twitter account @RyanHillMI, aka Ryan Hill. This account has a blue check mark which, supposedly, means it was vetted by Twitter and confirmed to be an actual person. Yet, an internet search on ‘Ryan Hill Michigan’ only yields results of a white, male lawyer in Michigan, and nothing about a young, black man in the Michigan area—which the @RyanHillMI’s avatar depicts.

I reached out to the Ryan Hill account on Twitter. I requested an interview providing some background information. The conversation turned bizarre.

I also contacted Twitter and asked the company about assigning a blue check to an account a journalist could not find much information about. I was told I would receive an answer. I am still waiting.

Needless to say, the account raises some suspicion about authenticity. If it is indeed some sockpuppet account posing as a black person to influence politics—it wouldn’t be the first time some vested interest engaged in ‘bot blackface.’

Perceptive social media users have even unearthed fake black accounts using Google’s reverse image search feature. One such Twitter account, @Mike47441781, was proven to use a stock image as the account’s avatar.

Shireen Mitchell is the founder of Digital Sisters and Stop Online Violence Against Women. She’s done in-depth research about the use of impostor black accounts pushing political agendas across social media.

Mitchell says the activity behind these fake accounts boils down to “getting people not to vote for Democrats.” She points out that social media is the ultimate affordable platform for white supremacists.

As one of the authors of Stop Online Violence Against Women’s report on targeted black voter suppression on social media, Mitchell and her team reported on the Russian Internet Research Agency’s purposeful political ad targeting to black Americans.

“The 3,500 ads on Facebook by the Russian Internet Research agency were centered largely on Black American Culture over all other identity and race-based narratives. While the race-based focus of the Russian-purchased ads has been acknowledged in some reporting and previous studies, it has not been pointed out in the media that the themes of Black Identity and culture were the focus of the majority of the ads with the intent to engage in voter suppression of Black voters,” stated Mitchell and the other report authors in a press release.

“The sobering analysis in this report documents that Russian ads were overwhelming focused on Black American Culture, and often specifically on Black women with the goal of voter suppression,” says Jessie Daniels, Professor of Sociology at The City University of New York, and a Fellow at The Data & Society Research Institute. “This report is an urgently needed reminder that we ignore the way racism is woven into technology at our own peril.”

Read more and see Ms. Lynn's video at BlackEnterprise.com

 





 
 

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