Social media is supposed to expand the possibilities of human communication. Yet an alliance of technology executives and black radicals is trying to restrict them. Case in point: Top officials of Crowdpac, Netflix, Twitter, Slack and YouTube donated sizable sums to the Baltimore mayoral campaign of DeRay McKesson (in photo, left). Though the donations didn’t produce victory, they were highly significant all the same. McKesson wasn’t just any political candidate. He’s chief strategist for Black Lives Matter, a collection of demagogues dedicated to stifling debate in cities and on college campuses. Corporate leaders defend their support as good for “diversity” and thus profits. Yet a diversity of opinion, most of all, has been the casualty.
To understand why the relationship between corporate chieftains and racial provocateurs is dangerous, it is necessary to summarize what Black Lives Matter (BLM) believes and how it has come so far in a short time. The organization is a loose network of black activists whose stated mission is to achieve long-delayed justice for their race. On closer inspection, however, its mission is wresting power from whites and putting innocent people in prison. That task might seem overwhelming given the group’s informal structure. Black Lives Matter has no CEO, no governing board and no headquarters. But that’s misleading. BLM emotionally connects with excitable, ill-informed young blacks, often college students, who crave validation of the familiar “white oppressor, black victim” storyline. And Black Lives Matter gives that validation to them, replete with slogans, semi-literate manifestos and character assassination. Exaggerating and even inventing facts is fair game if the end result is the perception that a white individual or group of individuals are guilty of something. Smart phones play a starring role in BLM guerrilla theater productions, facilitating meet-up rallies at brushfire speed. In a real sense, Black Lives Matter is a tech-savvy reinvention of masters of the racial shakedown such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
National Legal and Policy Center starting in January has published a series of articles on why Black Lives Matter should matter, most of all to its unfortunate targets. The group came together back in July 2013 in the immediate aftermath of a Florida state jury’s sound decision not to convict a white neighborhood anti-crime patrol volunteer, George Zimmerman, for murder in the February 2012 death of a black teenaged attacker, Trayvon Martin. Three black females – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi – each associated with a nationwide activist training group called BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity), decided to ramp up discontent with the verdict and go online. Thus, Black Lives Matter was born.
The group would storm onto the national stage in August 2014 in the wake of another highly-publicized shooting in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo. In this case, a local white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot to death an enormous, explosive-tempered 18-year-old male, Michael Brown, who was a lethal threat. For weeks after the shooting, BLM activists and their allies assembled in the streets of Ferguson for a national morality play. Oblivious to the facts surrounding the incident, they demanded the resignation of municipal leaders and the prosecution of the cop. They got the former, but not the latter. A St. Louis County grand jury that November declined to prosecute Officer Wilson, who by all credible evidence – and there was much of it – had acted in self-defense. Brown’s alleged famous last words, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” turned out to be an invention. During the August street occupation and again, much more violently, following the grand jury announcement, demonstrators rioted and burned buildings to the ground. Black Lives Matter activists would be involved in an even more destructive rampage in Baltimore in late April of last year following the death of a black career criminal, Freddie Gray, while in police custody following his arrest. Gray died several days after what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to injure himself inside a paddy wagon (reportedly in the hope of winning a cash settlement). Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a black, was unable or unwilling to quell the riot; she decided against running for re-election this year. DeRay McKesson, also black, was among a large field of Democratic Party candidates who wanted her job.
Black Lives Matter has been an especially noisome presence in higher education. BLM student activists on several occasions have manufactured the illusion of a white “hate crime” against a black or group of blacks. Such allegations subsequently have served as a pretext for denouncing, and attempting to remove from office, “apathetic” campus officials. The end game is control over hiring, curriculum design, grantmaking and other institutional functions. At the University of Kansas, a black female student last November posted to her Facebook site a highly questionable description of how she and some girlfriends were assaulted by a group of white males at an off-campus Halloween party. This “incident” had all the appearance of a hoax. Undeterred, the student, Kynnedi Grant, and other KU black activists led a months-long intimidation campaign against the university. The chancellor, deans, faculty and student government displayed almost no resistance. Meanwhile at Yale, black students and their comrades this past fall conducted two weeks of rallies to protest campus “racism” and highlight the “pain” that racism inflicts upon black students. A central allegation was that the campus chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had turned a woman away from a party because she was not white. Aside from showing their contempt for freedom of association, the activists neglected to note that leaders of that frat house, in response to a police complaint about noise and traffic, had turned away all visitors that night. Interestingly, Black Lives Matter spokesman DeRay McKesson (also spelled “Mckesson”) – the same DeRay McKesson who recently ran for mayor of Baltimore – a few weeks earlier had delivered a two-day guest lecture at Yale Divinity School during which he defended looting as a legitimate expression of protest.
In a just world, Black Lives Matter would be known only to police. Unfortunately, such a world does not exist. Indeed, we have evolved to the point where a mere allegation by BLM of a “hate crime” – i.e., a crime committed by a white against a black – is a guarantee of an investigation and likely punishment of someone, guilty or not. Rather than rebuke or at least avoid Black Lives Matter activists, certain pillars of our nation prefer to fawn over them. Time, Rolling Stone and other mainstream periodicals have justified their behavior. So have our political leaders. On February 18, President Barack Obama and his trusted top aide, Valerie Jarrett, played host to Black Lives Matter’s DeRay McKesson and Brittany Packnett, along with Reverend Al Sharpton, NAACP President Cornell Brooks and about a dozen other black activists. The White House meeting, lasting about an hour and a half, was a briefing session on race, neighborhoods and policing. Singling out McKesson and Packnett for praise after the meeting, President Obama remarked: “They (BLM) are some serious young people. I told them that they are much better organizers than I was at their age, and I am confident that they are going to take America to new heights. My job is just to make sure that I’m listening to them and learning from them a little bit.”
Of special concern here is the business angle. Multibillionaire George Soros has bestowed some of his wealth on Black Lives Matter. So has wealthy hip-hop recording artist/entrepreneur Jay Z. Less known, though more significant over the long run, information technology executives have gotten involved. As reported by Silicon Valley news webzine Recode, campaign finance papers filed March 16 by McKesson revealed contributions to his war chest of $6,000 by each by the following tech moguls: Twitter Executive Chairman Omid Kordestani; Crowdpac co-founder Gisel Kordestani; Slack founder Stewart Butterfield; and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. YouTube content partnerships director Malik Ducard pitched in $2,500. McKesson, all of 30 years old, in fact, launched his longshot campaign via Crowdpac. The arrangement worked. Within hours, Crowdpac generated $31,000 from 400 donors.
Why are officers of some of the world’s largest information technology companies bankrolling DeRay McKesson, a man who not only has justified the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, but in some measure helped to instigate them? Actually, it makes perfect sense given that information technology companies have been recent donors to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN). Airbnb, Facebook and Google each was a listed co-sponsor of the annual NAN convention held last month. That’s in addition to funding from Colgate Palmolive, Eli Lilly, FedEx, PepsiCo, Verizon and other firms in non-tech industries. While such enabling behavior can be seen as an attempt to ward off boycotts and other bad publicity, the reality is these businessmen believe in the anti-white activism that masquerades as “diversity.” Tech entrepreneurs tend to be a turbocharged hybrid of libertarianism and Leftism. On one hand, they are combative, take-no-prisoners businessmen who defend free markets and guard their intellectual property with a military-style secretiveness. On the other hand, they are supporters of racial- and gender-based quotas, goals and timetables. Such favoritism, they claim, fosters company morale and reaches untapped consumer markets. Hence, it is good for profits. The few opponents of affirmative action in that part of the world lack any real influence.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (in photo, right) is shameless in his promotion of this view. On December 4, 2014, staffers shared with visitors a painting on a wall at the company’s San Francisco headquarters that spelled out “#blacklivesmatter.” That evening, Twitter hosted a public forum on the need to increase “diversity” (i.e., the proportion of nonwhite employees) in the information technology industry. Panelists included former NAACP President Ben Jealous and former Vice President Al Gore. The next day, December 5, 2014, Twitter released a map showing the frequency of usage of the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #HandsUpDontShoot and #ICantBreathe since November 24, the day of the St. Louis County grand jury announcement not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. More recently, Twitter named #Black Lives Matter “one of the top 10 most influential moments of the year” for 2015; the company noted that the Black Lives Matter hashtag or phrase had been tweeted 9 million times. The above photo of Dorsey posing with DeRay McKesson, replete with clenched fists, is indicative of an ideological as well as business partnership.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, a man with a $40 billion-plus net worth, does more than just promote Black Lives Matter. He also prohibits his employees from expressing disapproval of the group. This February, after getting wind that a number of “Black Lives Matter” postings adorning the large free-for-all signature wall at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. had been crossed out in favor of the less inflammatory “All Lives Matter,” Zuckerberg, in a stern tone, circulated the following memo to all employees:
There have been several recent instances of people crossing out “black lives matter” and writing “all lives matter” on the walls at MPK.
Despite my clear communication at Q&A last week that this was unacceptable, and messages from other leaders from across the company, this has happened again. I was already very disappointed by this disrespectful behavior before, but after my communication I now consider this malicious as well.
There are specific issues affecting the black community in the United States, coming from a history of oppression and racism. ‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean that other lives don’t – it’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve.
We’ve never had rules around what people can write on our walls – we expect everybody to treat each other with respect. Regardless of the content or location, crossing out something means silencing speech, or that one person’s speech is more important than another’s. Facebook should be a service and a community where everyone is treated with respect.
This has been a deeply hurtful and tiresome experience for the black community and really the entire Facebook community, and we are now investigating the current incidents.
I hope and encourage people to participate in the [email protected] town hall on 3/4 to educate themselves about the Black Lives Matter movement is about.
Zuckerberg, who late in February personally vowed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would do more to police “hate speech” against refugees arriving in her country, has it all wrong. Facebook employees aren’t going to learn anything at any canned “town hall” meeting designed to browbeat whites. And “a history of racism and oppression,” real or imagined, ought not function as a license to intimidate. In the current political environment, scrawling the phrase “Black lives matter” in a public place is more than an expression; it’s a provocation. Frankly, why shouldn’t white employees be irritated over their workplace becoming a black agitprop factory? And why should employees of any race have to fear getting fired over crossing out a message strongly associated with such demagoguery?
If Mark Zuckerberg really wanted to find out who’s been imposing censorship at his company, he doesn’t have to look very far. In a May 9 Facebook post, an anonymous former “news curator” contractor with the company, fearing retaliation, was quoted as saying that he and other curators had been directed by Facebook managers to avoid posting stories from conservative websites in the “trending” module on the Facebook site. Managers also allegedly instructed curators not to post stories critical of the company. This might seem a trivial matter, but it is anything but that. The trending function, launched in 2014, has become a popular news aggregator. And people have access. More than 165 million people in the U.S. alone on average are logged onto Facebook at any given time. By presuming news stories on conservative websites to be “unimportant,” the curators have a built-in justification for excluding them as trending material – self-fulfilling prophecy! “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said one former curator. Black Lives Matter benefited from this practice. “We would get yelled at if it was all over Twitter and not on Facebook,” said a curator. “Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter.” The story concluded:
(T)he revelations undermine any presumption of Facebook as a neutral pipeline for news, or the trending news module as an algorithmically-driven list of what people are actually talking about. Rather, Facebook’s efforts to play the news game reveal the company to be much like the news outlets it is rapidly driving toward irrelevancy: a select group of professionals with vaguely center-Left sensibilities. It just happens to be one that poses as a neutral reflection of the vox populi, has the power to influence presidential elections. “It wasn’t trending news at all,” said the former curator who logged conservative news omissions. “It was an opinion.”
This comment would be wholly accurate were it not for the observation of the curators’ political sensibilities being “vaguely center-Left.” Actually, these sensibilities are for the most part unambigously hard-Left. That’s pretty much the reason why curators seek and take such jobs: to shape the news as well as report it.
Twitter might not have a free-for-all wall at its San Francisco headquarters, but it appears to have instituted a similar policy of filtering out articles coming from Right-leaning media sites. CEO Jack Dorsey denies this. In a March interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer on “The Today Show,” Lauer asked: “I sent a tweet out telling my followers, my measly number of followers, telling them you were going to be on, and on what questions they’d like you asked. There was an enormous outpouring of questions about censorship. So let me ask you point blank: Does Twitter censor the content of its users? Does it hide what it would consider inflammatory comments whether they be social or political?” Dorsey responded: “Absolutely not. Twitter has always been about controls. People can follow who they want.” If this disclaimer sounded less than convincing, it became even less so as he went on: “It’s our job to make sure they (readers) see the most important things and the things that’ll matter to them.” Dorsey did not define “important,” but apparently the news sites “Robert Stacy McCain” and “RWSurferGirl,” each banned from Twitter, don’t meet his gold standard.
All this has helped make DeRay McKesson a much-sought-after man. This past January 18, he appeared on CBS’s “The Late Show,” which since Stephen Colbert’s ascension to the host’s seat vacated by David Letterman last September has become something of a tech-billionaire public relations stop. Travis Kalanick (Uber), Evan Spiegel (Snapchat) and Elon Musk (Tesla), in fact, each had put in an appearance within the first month. McKesson, holding an iPhone in one hand and wearing an Apple watch on his other wrist, happily declared that online technology is dismantling white privilege. “When you think about what is different about the civil rights movement now,” McKesson told Colbert, “it’s really about technology. The issues are the same, and we didn’t invent resistance, and we didn’t discover injustice, but technology has allowed us to amplify these messages in ways that we couldn’t before and accelerated the pace of organizing in ways that are really powerful.” Away from the camera, McKesson is also close to the action. Just two days after his appearance on Colbert, he spoke at the San Francisco headquarters of software startup Slack Technologies. By that time, he already had met with Netflix chieftain Reed Hastings and talked over the phone with a top official of Los Angeles-based video storytelling app Flipagram.
It shouldn’t be hard to see the connection between such friendships and the tech industry cash flowing into the McKesson campaign for Baltimore mayor. Thankfully, the campaign didn’t come close to succeeding. McKesson finished sixth in the Democratic primary of April 26, receiving only 2.6 percent of the vote. That share was far behind the winner, Maryland State Senator Catherine Pugh, who edged out former Mayor Sheila Dixon by 36.6 percent to 34.7 percent.
But it’s going to take far more than a longshot mayoral primary loss for DeRay McKesson to be discouraged, especially since he wears more than one hat. This January, Wired magazine ranked Campaign Zero, a group of which he is a member, Number 15 on its inaugural Clout List of the top 20 tech industry political insiders (for the record, Alphabet aka Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was Number 1). Campaign Zero activists and Twitter executives for several months had been working to establish a presidential issues forum on race, policing and criminal justice. While the effort has not yet borne fruit, it has not lacked for enthusiasm. Democratic Party operatives were highly receptive to the idea. Last fall, Amy Dacey, chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee, addressed a letter to Black Lives Matter leaders, including DeRay McKesson. Her letter read: “We believe that your organization would be an ideal host for a presidential candidate forum – where all of the Democratic candidates can showcase their ideas and policy positions that will expand opportunity for all, strengthen the middle class and address racism in America.” The black media outreach director for the Republican National Committee, Orlando Watson, also expressed interest, though given his subsequent resignation this March, his comment might not mean much.
A number of knowledgeable observers admit that Black Lives Matter and Silicon Valley are partners in politics. Issie Lapowsky, a Wired staff writer who helped compile the list, put it this way: “The platforms know how influential they are. They are definitely known quantities.” Decker Ngongang, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Frontline Solutions, noted: “The tech sector has a kind of disproportionate political and economic influence that’s representative of how our politics has evolved…The Ford Foundation has this $12 billion endowment, but I bet Mark Zuckerberg could pull that together with a few neighbors and friends.” This latter statement is nothing short of alarming. In effect, Ngongang is proudly admitting that a few multibillionaires can buy a presidential election. Truly, money talks come election time.
Elections, by nature, are egalitarian. All votes count the same, regardless of how well- or poorly-informed a voter might be. There is no weighting mechanism. As we have democratized voter eligibility over the decades, uninformed voters more than ever outnumber informed ones. The result is campaigning in which slogans, sound bites and insults prevail, as candidates hunt down elusive swing voters. It’s politics as infotainment, soap opera and high-pressure salesmanship. And media enterprises play the dual role of master of ceremonies and moral watchdog, especially during TV debates. A single misunderstood “racist” remark, even if benign in intent, can torpedo a political career. Candidates in both major parties, fully aware of this unwritten rule, respond by parsing their language so as not to offend the easily offended – like Black Lives Matter activists. This tendency is a disaster for our political culture. Yet for Twitter, Facebook and other tech firms, it’s money in the bank. As they see things, why should TV networks have all the fun?
Black Lives Matter and social media websites, in partnering with each other, hasten this process. Many users of Facebook, Twitter and other social media seem terminally unable to sustain an attention span for more than a couple minutes. Cracking open a serious book just doesn’t seem to be for them. Blacks, aching for confirmation of their collective sense of resentment, are particularly heavy users of social media. A Pew Research Center phone survey released in February 2013 revealed that 26 percent of black Internet users use Twitter. That compared with only 14 percent of all whites and 19 percent of all Hispanics. The black, white and Hispanic figures for Instagram use were a respective 23 percent, 11 percent and 18 percent. Social media companies are not oblivious to such findings. They do plenty of market research themselves. For them, a large, irritable black audience means more potential site traffic. And traffic means revenues.
Social media entrepreneurs may see untapped opportunities in all this. Last month, Chris Sacca, an early Twitter investor, slammed the company for its lack of diversity. “Twitter is Black Twitter,” Sacca opined. “That’s where the hashtags happen…where the excitement is.” He added: “There is a greed case for diversity…diverse perspectives bring us into markets we didn’t know existed.” When Sacca speaks, people listen. A one-time campaign bundler for Barack Obama, last June he convinced the Twitter board of directors to oust chief executive officer Dick Costolo. Jack Dorsey, the original CEO until 2008, was named Costolo’s temporary and then permanent replacement. The move, however, has done little to reverse the company’s stock price decline.
This intertwining of politics and business is stifling debate on race. Though information technology industry contributions go to Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal proportions, either way the goal is the banning of content that could be construed as “racist.” Tech companies are now top-tier political players. As of mid-October 2014, for example, they had donated a combined $22.5 million, with Microsoft leading the way at $1.78 million, whether directly or via PACs. Google, Facebook and Amazon, respectively, contributed $1.43 million, $375,000 and $177,000 in that election cycle; the Google sum even slightly exceeded that of Goldman Sachs. Jack Dorsey is trying to make donations as trouble-free as possible. Last September, his two companies, Twitter and Square, announced a partnership: Twitter users will be able to make political contributions with Square mobile app credit/debit card payment technology.
The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter observed over 70 years ago that it is the nature of corporations to seek short-run monopolies. Tech executives are no exception. Indeed, they are the embodiment of this tendency. Their CEOs and other top officers will use any tactics, “fair” or “unfair,” to crush upstart rivals. Anyone doubting this should read full-length biographies of Apple’s Steve Jobs and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The take-no-prisoners cyber-moguls of Silicon Valley and points beyond know that a monopoly can be fleeting even without the prospect of an antitrust suit. Theirs is a world in which people in their 20s can become billionaires and where “hot” companies can go cold in a flash. Their support for Black Lives Matter is thus understandable. But it is not defensible. Alliances with these demagogues may boost profits, but they are a bad deal for the nation. As for DeRay McKesson, he’s not going to be the next mayor of Baltimore. But we hardly have heard the last of him. Tech executives will make sure of that.