AnitaB.org Insights

How Tech Can Stand Up to Racism and Bigotry

by Elizabeth Ames, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances, and Programs

The tech industry has serious issues with bias and sexism — this is not news. Our progress toward equality is slow and imperfect. But as the news cycle pivots from the Google Manifesto to the deadly actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have a unique and critical opportunity to be on the right side of history when it comes to denouncing intolerance. Technology companies must seize the chance to resist hatred and stand on the front lines of resistance.

As the world recoiled from at Nazi flags and racist chants in Charlottesville, a few tech leaders were already showing us the way forward. Last Wednesday, Airbnb confirmed they had cancelled the accounts and bookings of users attending the Unite the Right event, citing the company’s policies that ban discrimination based on “race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.”

On Sunday night, GoDaddy gave 24-hour notice to the Daily Stormer — the white supremacist website where rally organizers had gathered — on terms-of-service violations. The hosting site made its decisive move after the site mocked Heather Heyer, who was killed when a militia member drove his car into a crowd. GoDaddy’s statement said, “this type of article could incite additional violence, which violates our terms of service.” Two days later, Google cancelled the domain-name registration for the Daily Stormer.

As the week went on, resistance from STEM companies gained momentum. Kenneth Frazier, the African-American leader of pharmaceutical giant Merck, issued a statement saying that he had resigned from a presidential council due to Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacist groups. “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” Frazier said.

Fraizer’s resignation was quickly followed by that of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who said in a blog post that he had “resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.” Krzanich continued: “I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence.”

It’s time for the rest of us to follow these leaders, and join the fight against hate groups. Refuse their ads, ban their accounts, cancel their crowdfunding, adjust algorithms to eliminate their hate and bias. Social media sites: It’s time to get serious about cracking down on hate speech, prohibiting hate-group organizing, and protecting people of color from targeted harassment. Technologists, push your companies to enforce policies that limit the reach of bigots and racists, and offer pro-bono services — web hosting, ad inventory, analytics tools — to organizations that actively fight white supremacy.

Popular geek comic XKCD has it right: “The right to free speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say. It doesn’t mean that anyone else has to listen to [it] or host you while you share it.”

The time for silence is over. The time for action is now.