All kinds of recent events remind us of the pervasiveness of bigotry, discrimination and racism that used to run just under the surface of ‘political correctness’ in our culture. And by our culture, I mean a majority of european and euro-centric societies that we collective call ‘the west.’ And this is not to say that racism don’t exist in the other hemisphere (we know that it does), it is only to frame our conversation here in the context with which we are familiar.

digital media

I had a phone conversation a few years ago with a friend in which he stated that ‘there is no such thing as institutional racism.’ It’s strange how that simple phrase has bothered me ever since. It is precisely this, a refusal to acknowledge what plainly exists, to deny it, that brings us to this week’s #SMXChat discussion.

I do not intend to indict social media as a purveyor of racism and discrimination. As a matter of fact, I cite this statement to you:

‘Don’t blame the technology.’ – @eksays

In fact many of us might be surprised to know what goes on in social media in the places where we fear to tread, or, like I, tread lightly. The political climate of the past year or so is a prime example of how it is suddenly okay to discredit common courtesy as political correctness. As if ‘telling it like it is’ is some profound truth that lay undiscovered until this U.S. Presidential election and the geo-political convulsions around the middle east and Africa.


So while we may see social media as a social and business opportunity, many others see it as a conduit for a ‘movement’ of people of a certain mind toward intolerance and hatred. Is that too strong a word?

Okay, it’s not Twitter or Facebook’s fault that people exercise their free speech right using these platforms. To suggest otherwise would be foolish. Social media, though, does offer us the quasi-anonymity that makes hostility toward each other easier. My anecdotal observation is that those of us who use our real selves to represent us on social media are less likely to display intolerant behavior. And likewise, I imagine, with social media platforms that strive to assure that accounts are true representations of people, not attempts to hide identity behind an avi for the purpose of saying their piece anonymously.

Perhaps the key to understanding how intolerant, bigoted or racist behavior has grown in social media is self-reflection. Understanding our conscious and unconscious biases and controlling their effect on our outward behavior rather than allowing them to control us. Because I suspect we all have biases, but not all of us act out based on their effect on our emotions.

Q1) What effect has ‘political correctness’ had on creating an environment where racism has emerged?

Q2) In reaching out to each other, we may discover we have more in common than what separates us. Agree or disagree?

Q3) What is it about social media that emboldens us to speak our minds on taboo topics such as racist speech?

Q4) How do social taboos like racism affect how biz and brands participate in social media?

Q5) How do inherent biases escalate to outward racism? Can we express our fears in productive ways?

Q6) How should we react to intolerant behaviour when we see it?

Q7) Where is the line between freedom of expression and social taboo, as in ‘hate speech’?

Q8) Does using ‘code words’ to communicate to like-thinking audiences make the racist speech acceptable?

Q9) Children see this behaviour. Is racism an endless perpetuating process?

Q10) What, if anything, can social platforms do to set limits on abusive behaviour?