Profiting off Black bodies

Tiera Tanksley’s work seeks to better understand how forms of digitally mediated traumas, such as seeing images of Black people dead and dying on social media, are impacting Black girls’ mental and emotional wellness in the U.S. and Canada. Her fears were confirmed in her findings: Black girls report unprecedented levels of fear, depression, anxiety and chronic stress. Viewing Black people being killed by the state was deeply traumatic, with mental, emotional and physiological effects.

Aside from death videos, the girls in her study also had to deal with a myriad of anti-Black racism online, dealing with messages and comments of threats against their physical safety and mental well-being. This, as evident in many reports, has been a constant feature of Black people’s experiences online. Content moderation systems have consistently tended to determine that anti-Black slurs and death threats should be protected under the guise of freedom of speech. On the flip side, social media posts about racialised grief, grassroots organising, and the need to dismantle white supremacy, were often flagged as “hate speech”, and “inciting violence”. Yet, it is precisely the hyper-circulation and virality of death videos, and other related racist and harmful content, which generate views, clicks, and ultimately sustain the business models of these social media companies. The killing of Black Americans is amongst the most popular searches in Google’s history, according to Google Trends. As Tanksley explains:

When images of Black people being killed by police garner over 2.4 million clicks in 24 hours, and the average “cost per click” for related content reaches $6 per click, the virality of Black death is not only incentivized, but nearly guaranteed.

Profiting off Black bodies is steeped in imperial and colonial histories. Tanksley notes that technologies replicate the same racial logics which produce, fetishise, commodify and ultimately profit from Black death and dying: “Black death is Big Business”. Black communities and activists continue to resist and protect themselves and their spaces online in a myriad of ways, with the drive to transform and create new internet futures.

See: When Black Death Goes Viral: How Algorithms of Oppression (Re)Produce Racism and Racial Trauma at Sage Perspectives Blog.

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