In today’s day and age, social media is king. A brand’s most accessible and influential touchpoint with its audience is online. If there was ever any doubt, COVID-19 has proven once and for all that a strong social media presence is pivotal to organizational survival in the 21st century.
Over the last six years, Watch The Yard has organically built a following of 325k followers on Instagram by celebrating, archiving and reporting on Black college culture. We now reach over 10 million college-educated African American each month, and have become the largest brand in the space. The success of today’s YARD CON, a digital conference providing practical support to Black college students impacted by COVID-19 nationwide, was made possible by Watch The Yard’s vast reach on social media.
Our growth was hard won. After all, the Internet is not a democracy. Social media platforms’ features, verification processes, and algorithms highlight some accounts over others, which in turn leads to differential access to customers, contracts and credibility. In other words, tech products are political, determining who gets what, and how much. Watch The Yard has experienced these politics firsthand.
Despite request after request, we can’t seem to get Instagram to verify our @WatchTheYard or @WatchTheBands accounts. Each time, we’re met with vague explanations in stock language about secret internal policies. All the while, we’ve watched as brands smaller than ours get verified. Our team started to hypothesize that maybe this has to do with the space we are in–the Black college space.
“It couldn’t be just us,” we thought. So we did some research into it, and turns out that we are likely correct.
We looked to see if any of Divine Nine national pages are verified by Instagram. It turns out, only two of the nine are verified: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. That is right, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. the largest organization of Black women in the world, has not received verification.
Then, Watch The Yard created a list of every Historically Black College and University’s (HBCU) Instagram account and documented which are verified. The results were staggering.
Of 98 HBCUs, only four are verified: Spelman College, Morehouse College, Jackson State University, and Saint Philips College. That’s right, barely 4% of Historically Black Colleges and Universities are verified. Howard, Hampton, North Carolina A&T, FAMU…none of them are verified despite esteemed institutional legacies, vibrant campus cultures, and dedicated alumni bases.
Predominantly white universities (PWIs) have a much higher verification count, though. The University of Southern California is verified. The University of Michigan and Ole Miss are verified. Princeton, and Harvard are verified. Even Biola University is verified. This pattern of differential treatment betweenHBCUs and PWIs on Facebook cuts across institutional type (public vs. private), selectivity, and ranking. As with many dynamics in society, it seems that Internet politics operate along racial lines.
We’re not 100% sure what’s happening here, but we can tell you what it looks like from the outside. It looks like tech companies are not paying much attention to Black issues or the brands and culture we create.
We often hear about a lack of minority representation in Silicon Valley. Do the people handling verification even know what HBCUs are? Do they understand how important institutions like Black fraternities and sororities have been to our communities, for over a century? Does it take white investment for big tech to take notice?
By now, you can sense how frustrating this situation is for us at Watch The Yard. As a business that cares about preserving, serving, and uplifting the Black community, and that has invested so much time and money into the Facebook and Instagram ecosystems, we feel this acutely.
In actuality, this should be frustrating to all of us. After all, Black communities power social media, driving viral trends and cultural commentary, globally. We deserve recognition, and we deserve reciprocity.
The good news is that Facebook has the capability to fix this. If you’re reading, please investigate the ways in which systemic racism might be creeping into your products, and adjust. Ensure that verifiers adequately research minority organizations and our contributions to society. And listen to your customers! Feel free to contact us at Watch The Yard. We are more than happy to provide ideas, feedback, and information from our archives.
If you have ethics, think of your users. If you have logic, think of your reputation.
Watch The Yard has organized a petition on Change.org to secure verification for All 98 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Divine Nine organizations on Facebook and Instagram. Show your support by signing here.