Member Confronts Racism in Online Media

Author and journalist Anita M. Samuels, of Local 375, at the DC 37 radio show “State of the Union,” broadcast on 91.5 WNYE-FM, discusses her book “Rants & Retorts,” about how bigots overrun online news comments.

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

Veteran news reporter Anita M. Samuels’ new book, “Rants & Retorts,” examines often anonymous— and always vitriolic— racist online comments posted on internet news stories.

“I became a journalist because I wanted to write positive stories about African Americans,” said Samuels, a member of Civil Technical Guild Local 375 who works as an administrative coordinator at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

After the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008, many were quick to say America transitioned to a post-racial society. But in “Rants & Retorts: How Bigots Got A Monopoly on Commenting About News Online,” Samuels exposes an ugly truth: Racism is festering on social media.

Reading disturbing online comments on several news stories the New York Daily News had published in 2008, an upset Samuels complained to her editor. The comments eventually were taken down, but not soon enough.

The more news stories she read online, the more negative, offensive comments she found.

“Being offended drove me to ask why this is OK and who says it’s OK?” Samuels said. “I also wondered what effect it would have on younger readers. It’s poison and it’s repeated. That’s what is so dangerous.”

The online comments at major news sites Samuels read were shockingly racist and offensive especially when the subject was identified as African American.

“President Barack Obama, as educated and credentialed as he is,” Samuels observed, “even he cannot escape being judged and devalued in the most narrow, racist terms.”

Years of research led Samuels to examine the reasons offensive comments posted by anonymous trollers and those who use online monikers were allowed to remain on websites like washingtonpost.com, wsj.com, and even popularscience.com.

“There are a lot of issues at play in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Most newsrooms are understaffed. These attacks are often left online because they attract more eyes to the site,” Samuels explained. “We’ve arrived at a sad state.”

“Unlike Mr. Obama, Donald Trump is never attacked for his race, nor are his faults ever attributed to his race. The scary part about Trump is he sound like an online commenter,” Samuels said. “His behavior gives online commenters permission to voice outright their racism.”

To their credit, Samuels said, news organizations like Popular Science, The Daily Beast, The Toronto Star, and others have shut down comments after experiencing a backlash due to racism and other negativity. By establishing protocols and using software and moderators, she said, these and other news sites detect and delete racist comments and attacks.

With an introduction by Chuck D of Public Enemy, Samuels’ analysis offers timely insight on media and the state of race relations in 21st century America. To buy “Rants & Retorts” visit Samuels’ website.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of the Public Employee Press.

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