I'm not a fan of FB or Twitter. To many who know me, this comes as no surprise. Although I joined FB earlier than most, in some cases, I've taken years to respond to FB messages. In other cases, I simply never have. I'm not a Luddite nor a technophobe. Quite the opposite. My father was the first Black software engineer in America, hired by IBM in 1946. I grew up with the technology that powers social media; programmed my first computer at age six, well before software languages, before most people were even exposed to computers.
But social media platforms, like FB and Twitter, pose a threat to democracy. The 2016 election was a glaring example of how some used social media used to manipulate the democratic process. Young Blacks did not vote in record numbers; their absence large enough to swing the presidential election. In a post-election speech, Trump cynically thanked Blacks for staying home on Election Day. IRA, a Russian troll farm, was one party behind this effort, targeting Blacks through FB and Twitter, IRA spread a meme not to vote; a meme proudly seized by many, even in activist groups like Black Lives Matter, as their own.
Our social media problem also stems from within this country. While working in the field of public safety and national security, I visited many of this nation's small and mid-sized regional intelligence fusion centers. I saw firsthand how easy it is to use social media to surveil a population. I dropped a Twitter icon on a location and swept up every Tweet within a selected radius. I entered a name and discovered the huge FB network that person was connected to. Many seem not to care, and continue using social media as if these privacy concerns don't matter. They do. They matter deeply in a true democracy.
I recently discovered that in the 1960s and 70s my father, while working for IBM, had a hand in developing the technology that underlies the internet and social media; doing then-secretive work for IBM, DARPA, and the CIA. Beyond that, I uncovered a shocking and disturbing pattern of IBM's involvement in the most horrific human rights abuses of the modern age—eugenics, the Holocaust, apartheid, and racial profiling.
With the 2020 election looming, the stakes could not be higher. Technology subverting democracy and human nights will continue until an informed citizenry halts it. Some of us raised our voices prior to the 2016 election, but we were too little, too weak, and too late. This time around, I've made a commitment to sound the alarm early, and to continue sounding the alarm about this corrosive connection between technology and democracy. We cannot afford to be unwitting participants in the subversion of the very rights that so many have fought and died for.
As an author, words are my weapons. By resurfacing on social media, I'm hoping to shine some light on this dark side of technology. In the coming weeks and months, I'll be writing, posting, blogging, and Tweeting about race and technology, about technology and human rights abuses; about technology and democracy; about what we can do as technology users to make a difference; and simply about being a writer in this era.