Mia Moody, Ph.D. spent more than three years studying hate groups on Facebook. The assistant professor and researcher at Baylor College released her findings in a report titled “New Media-Same Stereotypes: An Analysis of Social Media Depictions of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.” The report states that “historical racist portrayals of black men and women often fell into one of three categories —blackface/animalist, socially deviant and evil/angry —and over-emphasized and ridiculed facial features, personality traits and diets.”
Through her analysis of twenty groups on Facebook, she discovered that although the media is new, the messages, stereotypes, and fear-mongering are old. “The groups often highlight the President and First Lady with features that are meant to be negative or funny such as beards, Afros, mustaches, gold teeth, do-rags and various costumes,” Moody said. “Mrs. Obama is depicted as a masculine, unattractive ‘angry black woman.’ Most pictures are accompanied with a disrespectful caption.
Many African Americans have observed the disrespect readily afforded the Obamas’ and the President in particular. From Joe Wilson’s “you lie“ to “finger-pointing” Jan Brewer and even attempts to portray his academic pedigree as a negative (“he’s too professorial”) the volume and intensity of hate has been striking. While some people believed the election of Obama signaled America’s arrival at the “promised land” of Dr. King fame — many in the African American community remained doubtful. The depictions of the Obama family and other minorities in new media prove otherwise.
What are the implications? Because of the shift in media gatekeepers, “Students and media scholars must learn how to read and critically dissect the Internet and other forms of new media,” Moody said. “Scholars also must continue to explore the dynamics of freedom of speech within new media platforms.” Historical representations of African Americans have transcended to a new media platform…without traditional gatekeepers to suppress such messages, the watchdog role is left to scholars,” she writes. These images can potentially remain visible for a long time. Unless the administrator of a Facebook group decides to take down a photo of Obama’s head on a KFC bucket — millions of potential visitors can see the depiction. “Users rather than editors and publishers police the content of Facebook pages” writes Mia.
Facebook’s group application is a free social networking site for like-minded individuals to express their thoughts on topics and to share photos and ideas. These findings are important as perceptions and stereotypes often become the dominant viewpoint whether they are accurate or not.
On Facebook many of these groups have found fertile ground for growth and to spew their negative messages. Consider that “I hate it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President” (800,000 likes) and “I hate Obama” (17,500 likes) have garnered more attention than some Fortune 500 company brands. Comments on many of the photos include racial slurs and personal attacks.
So are these groups just individuals expressing their First Amendment rights, or are they spawning a new era of dangerous rhetoric powered by Facebook? What do you say?