Introducing #TwerkTech2

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For about two years or more I’ve been toying with teens and technology and the implications and unintended consequences particularly for black girls or under-resourced girls from marginalized communities.  These communities are rarely represented in videos circulating around the web about social media and screen time.

Girls’ online interest-driven activities–those stepping stones to self-actualization and adulthood–are often stigmatized and stereotyped in networked spaces like YouTube or Facebook. It leads marginalized kids to seek out platforms like Snapchat thinking they are protected when their snaps actually were not deleted or disappearing. It also leads many black girls to seek Tumblr because there is not textual engagement with any uploaded content. Other users leave notes rather than comments providing an affirming space to self-present online.

The technology concerns I am interested in are more about humanizing a group of people who are socially alienated by networked publics. Black girls’s online content tends to be disliked in Generation Like more than their non-black and non-female counterparts.

Studying the misogyny and the sexploitation surrounding young girls’ twerking videos on YouTube has helped me think about the breakdown that can result from others’ judgments of their content and how that then affects their ecological fitness. I wrote about this is the chapter “YouTube, Bad Bitches, and a M.I.C.” in the Hip-hop and Obama Reader edited by Travis Gosa and Erik Nielsen:

Most girls, even the “smart” girls, simply do not yet have the biologically developed cognition needed to process and counter this commercial onslaught of distorted teenage relationships: their frontal lobes will not fully develop until after ages 20–23. Nor do most adolescents and teens have ample“fitness” to do so—defined here as an organism’s capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment. This includes emotional, mental, and conversational fitness in what are political exchanges for sex, love—and, yes, money—in local and global economies.
Many teens (and adults, for that matter) have not learned to resist the socio-biological pull of their libidos and hormones, which are too frequently directed by the flow of corporate-market music with its twisted myths of romantic seduction. (Gaunt 2015, 221)

 

My aim is to empower those black, brown and/or poor girls who are unlikely to learn to code or elect to study a STEM or STEAM in school or college. Their digital media literacy is perhaps even more important this the lesser number who will go into tech careers. They will be moms, sisters, caretakers, community leaders, health advocates, fitness seekers, and they need to learn how powerful the mobile apps they already have can be in empowering just about any aspect of their adulthood and ambition in their personal, professional,  and physical wellness.


[Ecological fitness is] defined here as an organism’s [or a girl’s] capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment.


So I came up with an idea from studying thousands of twerking videos featuring tween and teen black girls’ bedroom culture. My mission is to get black, brown and poor girls who use YouTube and other SNSs in musical interactions that often involve their body or dance to extend their online interest-driven activities into tech applications and mobility, too. Thus, the idea of #TwerkTech2.

Join me this weekend at the Rutgers Digital Blackness conference on April 23 at 3:30pm as I present my latest ideas and thoughts about a project I dreamed of almost 4 years ago. Then I called it “Cookies in the Hood”. The reference here is about computer cookies and adulthood (as well as neighborhood, childhood, labiahood or sexuality and intimacy training, and more).

Fitness takes time and planning; seduction is easy and quick. Fitness takes healthy eating, movement, and education; seduction is cheap and fast. Seduction requires nothing of you to participate. In fact, it trades on a naïve notion that your future is far away and that what happens now will not matter later. Why can’t girls as content
creators shift that seduction? It seems so accessible with YouTube—why isn’t it happening? (Gaunt 2015, 221).

Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer. “They are designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.” What if we took this same concept and restored it to thinking about sovereignty of mind and body as well as the autonomy or learning to DIWO (do it with others) without threats or obligations to others? That’s another way of saying autonomy = wealth. A wealth of skills, capital, and human and non-human resources that all you to “do as you see fit.”

So, that’s what I am up to these days. That’s what I’m going to present about at the Rutgerts University DIgital Blackness Conference this weekend.

Here’s a couple of videos — one for parents and teachers and one for kids and teens — from a great organization Common Sense Media. There mission is to “improves the lives of kids and families by providing independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.”  These videos give us insights into the need for new digital media literacies and conversations about the unintended consequences so girls can grow up online free from harm AND free to express themselves and explore technical ways to twerk their user-generated content on any platform.

 

 

Bibliography:

Gaunt, Kyra D.YouTube, Bad Bitches, and an M.I.C. (Mom-in-Chief) ): On the Digital Seduction of Black Girls in Participatory Hip-Hop Spaces. The Hip Hop & Obama Reader, 2015a, 207-26. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199341801.003.0012.

It’s a Crime: “Latanya” and “Shamika” & the Negative Worth from Online Racism

“In a world where few would deny the existence of racism but even fewer would ever admit to propagating it, there will always be the problem of agency. We have racism but no racists – a noun without a subject, a consequence that nobody caused, a system that nobody operates creating victims without perpetrators. ”

“Who thinks about the consequences of online racism?” by 

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Can Your Computer’s Search Algorithm Be Racist?

The Ford Foundation has focused its mission on eradicating and education in various fields on inequality. This January I will teach my first course on social inequality during the Winter Intercession. This is exciting and challenging; to find a way to link my current research interests in the unintended consequences of the “new digital divide” in social networking sites and on the web relative to marginalized youth, particularly in my study of black girls’ expressive culture on YouTube.

One of the earliest questions I had was how twerking videos might affect the social capital and digital net worth of the reputations of black girls into their adulthood. My research collecting data from YouTube videos reveals many unintended consequences and some are set in motion by the very act of a YouTube search and its complex and personalized algorithms. Search “girls” vs. “black girls” or “girl’s hair” vs. “black girl’s hair” or “twerking” vs. “black girls twerking” or “ratchet girls twerking” and the results reveal a great deal of bias–intersectional biases of race, class, sex, gender, sexuality and age.

Here in this short video by Professor Latanya Sweeney, head of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard, shares how she began to study the cyber racism of technology and its unintended consequences even for a Harvard professor. More research and critical digital media literacy education is needed in this domain for marginalized people and groups. Trying to figure out what my work might provide here. I believe music consumption and participatory culture on YouTube by marginalized girls, especially online black girls, may have affordances for legacy media and YouTube but costs girls their future adulthood not unlike the example of what happened to Sweeney when  she discovered a problem with her given name “Latanya.”

“If an employer searched the name of a prospective hire, only to be confronted with ads suggesting that the person had a prior arrest, you can imagine how that could affect the applicant’s career prospects.”

Read more about this on the Ford Foundation website from the Equals Change blog. The post was written by Technology Program Officer for Internet Freedom (15 Nov 2015).

Can computers be racist?
Big data, inequality, and discrimination

Can computers be racist? from Ford Foundation on Vimeo.