Major technology platforms are re-examining how they interact with police forces and regulate hate speech online following the death of George Floyd and the weeks of protests that ensued.
From avatars and hashtags to policy changes and donations, here is what technology companies are saying about #BlackLivesMatter – and what they are actually doing to back up those statements of support.
Symbolism: “We stand with the Black community,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an impassioned 31 May post on the CEO’s personal page.
The platform also launched a section called “Lift Black Voices” where users can watch videos from Black activists and entertainers, donate to fundraisers for racial justice organizations, and read essays reflecting on the Black experience in America.
Donations: Facebook has committed more than $200m to support Black businesses and organizations, in part through cash and and credit grants to Black-owned businesses and in part through committing to buying its own business supplies from Black-owned suppliers.
Policy Changes: The company committed to increasing the number of Black people in leadership positions by 30% in the next five years and doubling the number of Black and Latinx employees overall by 2023. Zuckerberg also rolled out changes to hate speech enforcement on the platform, including prohibiting a wider range of hate speech in ads .
Major enforcement actions: Facebook in June removed hundreds of accounts related to the rightwing “boogaloo” hate movement.
Bigger picture: Despite all of those changes, more than 1,000 brands, including Coca-Cola and Unilever, pulled advertisements from Facebook for the month of July in protest of the company’s failure to address hate speech. Civil rights groups behind the boycott met with executives on Tuesday and said Zuckerberg declined to make concrete commitments to better policies.
Reports have found hate speech, white nationalism and conspiracy theories still thrive on Facebook. About 35% of Americans have experienced harassment online this year due to racial, religious or sexual identity and the majority of it – 77% – took place on Facebook, a 2020 report from the Anti-Defamation League found.
Symbolism: The official Twitter account changed its avatar from a blue to a black bird and changed its bio to #BlackLivesMatter – as did nearly a dozen other company accounts. Off the platform, Twitter posted tweets from Black users on billboards across eight US cities that have been at the center of recent protests. It also declared Juneteenth a corporate holiday for US-based employees.
Donations: CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged $1bn in Square equity in donations and posted a spreadsheet tracking his personal donations to date. Twitter as a company made a number of donations totaling more than $2.6m in free advertising to related causes, non-partisan organizations dedicated to voting access, and cash donations to non-profits benefiting the Black community.
Policy Changes: None.
Major enforcement actions: In May, Twitter added a warning label to a tweet from Donald Trump threatening protesters of George Floyd’s death for “glorifying violence”.
Bigger picture: Like many social platforms, Twitter still struggles to address hate speech. A spokeswoman said the company is “actively engaging with teams across the organization” to look at how to better engage the Black community and make sure non-white users feel safe on its service.
Symbolism: The Snap CEO, Evan Spiegel, sent an extensive memo to employees in which he acknowledged his privilege as a white tech executive and floated the idea of reparations. “In short, people like me will pay a lot more in taxes – and I believe it will be worth it to create a society that benefits all of us,” he wrote.
Policy changes: Snap announced on 3 June that it would bar Trump’s posts from appearing in its Discover channel, citing its desire not to “amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice”.
Major enforcement actions: None.
Bigger picture: Snap was criticized for its release of a Juneteenth filter that asked users to “smile to break the chains”. It discontinued the filter and released an apology. This was not the first time the platform has been accused of insensitivity or outright racism in its filters. Former employees claim the company fostered a racist environment in which content made by non-white creators was rarely acknowledged and Black employees had to fight hard to have their voices heard.
Symbolism: CEO Susan Wojcicki released a letter to the YouTube community on 11 June saying the company was committed to protesting against the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and “so many others before them”. Through the month of June, YouTube’s Spotlight channel highlighted racial justice issues.
Policy Changes: The company has not announced any policy changes since May.
Major enforcement actions: In June, YouTube suspended the account of the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes. It also suspended other white nationalist and extremist channels, including those associated with American Renaissance, Richard Spencer , Stefan Molyneux and David Duke.
Bigger picture: The video platform has been a breeding ground for racism in the past, giving rise to an entire ecosystem of far-right influencers. A number of YouTubers have recently faced personal reckonings for racist behavior or videos in the past, including Jenna Marbles, who retired from the platform following criticism in June.
Symbolism: Google celebrated Juneteenth with a Google doodle. It also programmed its AI assistant to answer the question, “Do all lives matter?” by responding: “Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean that all lives don’t. It means black lives are at risk in ways others are not.”
Donations: Google made a series of financial commitments to improve racial equity totaling more than $350m, including financing and grants for Black business owners, funding for education in the tech world, and cash donations to non-profits.
Policy Changes: Google committed to improving leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30% by 2025. Google’s workforce is 51.7% white and 3.7% black, according to its 2020 diversity report. It also promised to “do more to address representation challenges ” by hiring new people in positions dedicated to the progression and retention of Googlers “from underrepresented groups”.
Major enforcement actions: None.
Bigger picture: Google has been criticized in the past for the lack of racial diversity among its staff, as well as for racial bias in its algorithms. It has also faced criticism from its own employees over partnerships with police forces, including being a donor to the Seattle police department.
Symbolism: CEO Steve Huffman posted a message in solidarity with anti-racism efforts. The site’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company’s board and urged Reddit to replace him with a Black candidate.
Policy changes: The company rolled out new content rules in June, sharpening its ban on hate speech and harassment.
Major enforcement actions: In concert with the announcement of its new rules against hate speech, Reddit banned about 2,000 subreddits in June, including r/The_Donald, the largest pro-Trump message board (known as a subreddit) on the site.
Bigger picture: Reddit has been criticized in the past for its tolerance, or even promotion, of hateful content. After the actions announced by Huffman, Reddit’s former CEO Ellen Pao tweeted that the company must do more to address the issue. “You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long,” she wrote.
Symbolism: Following the death of George Floyd, Amazon called for an end to “the inequitable and brutal treatment of black people” in the US and added a “Black Lives Matter” banner at the top of its home page. Its chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, posted on Instagram an email from a customer criticizing the BLM banner on Amazon’s home page, and said the emailer was the kind of customer he’s “happy to lose”.
The company also programmed its AI assistant Alexa to respond say, “Black lives matter. I believe in racial equality. I stand in solidarity with the black community in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.”
Donations: $10m to social justice organizations related to civil rights issues and fighting racism.
Policy changes: Under pressure from activists, the company announced a one-year moratorium on selling its facial recognition technology to police forces.
Major enforcement actions: None.
Bigger picture: The company faces continued criticism for its partnerships with police through its smart doorbell Ring, which allows police to request footage and images from citizens’ doorbells. There are currently more than 1,400 police partnerships with Ring in the US. Amazon has also been accused of suppressing worker organizing in its warehouses surrounding how it handled the Covid-19 pandemic, including smearing a Black worker as “not smart or articulate”, according to leaked memos.
Symbolism: Airbnb released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter and published an Activism and Allyship guide for hosts and guests.
Donations: $500,000 to the NAACP.
Policy Changes: Through a partnership with the online activist group Color Of Change, Airbnb will now collect data to measure and fight bias and discrimination on the platform. It also committed to making 20% of its board of directors and executive team people of color by the end of 2021, and it made Juneteenth a company holiday.
Major enforcement actions: None.
Bigger picture: The platform has faced consistent criticism for its racial biases. A 2019 experiment found that Black users were 16% less likely to be accepted as guests than white users.
Symbolism: Twitch released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter protests.
Policy changes: A spokesman said the company was considering additional policy changes, including a review of its hateful conduct and harassment policies, enhanced offensive username detection, improvements to its “Banned Words list”, and “other projects focused on reducing harassment and hateful conduct”.
Major enforcement actions: The streaming platform has more diligently cracked down on hate speech in recent weeks. Twitch suspended Trump’s channel, which was used to stream his campaign rallies, for violating its rules against hate speech.
Bigger picture: Twitch appears to be the first major social media platform to actually suspend the US president for violating its rules.