Jamarlin talks to serial entrepreneur and technologist Shireen Mitchell about whether Black tech investors invest enough in Black entrepreneurs. They discuss Facebook and Google de-platforming Black activists and how the algorithms disproportionately censor people who speak out against those in power. They debate whether Silicon Valley’s so-called “diversity” problem is connected to systemic content-policing against Black folks online.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! Today we have serial entrepreneur and technologist, Shireen Mitchell, welcome to the show.
Shireen Mitchell: Thank you for having me. I appreciate being here.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s dive right in. You’re coming from a conference where they’re talking about governments using technology to create mischief, to meddle in elections. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Shireen Mitchell: Absolutely. So the conference was held at the Swedish embassy yesterday and today, organized by Atlantic Council and it’s called STRATCOM DC, and it brought together people from different governments and also civil society as well as others who were participating in this conversation about disinformation, hacking and the bots and the ways in which they impact elections, but also the ways in which it impacts us every day in the tech community,
Jamarlin Martin: Did they touch on some of the white supremacist ads and the Russian strategists wanting to play off race in terms of influencing the election?
Shireen Mitchell: So from the U.S. Perspective, I would say yesterday we did not touch on the whole bunch of that, but what I can do is tell you that I have collected and have an interactive visual of how the Russian ads from the IRA, the 3,500 ads on Facebook that our government released, I can tell you that they were not only race-based ads, but they were centrally targeting black identity.
Jamarlin Martin: Were there people who actually worked as part of the operations, did they speak up about that?
Shireen Mitchell: Yeah. So there was at least one woman who participated in the Russian troll farm that was in St Petersburg.
Jamarlin Martin: They were hired by the Russian government?
Shireen Mitchell: They were hired by the Russian government to work on the troll farm. And she shared her experience and how she was engaging with others who were there too, who are humans, which I think sometimes people disconnect from the concept that when we talk about a Russian troll farm, there’s some assumption that it’s not actually people and so she shared her story about her engagement and how she was not very technologically savvy and I was just trying to hide that and then telling stories of the people that she was having engagements with, including a man who was pretending to be a Mexican auto repair guy, who was sharing misinformation but using that identity as being a Mexican and also a repair guy. So he seemed to be like a working class guy but was still disseminating misinformation in the U.S. Elections.
Jamarlin Martin: People who were actually hired by the GRU and the Russians in terms of their operations. They’re speaking out at this conference, but some people are still going around saying that this stuff is a hoax.
Shireen Mitchell: So yes, I would say on the U.S. Side, there’s some arrogance about our understanding about what really took place and there’s a lack of understanding. Sometimes it’s because it’s technical, but sometimes I think it’s because, I think we don’t understand that we’re literally in what would be classified as the cyber war with Russia versus the Cold War. And, I can’t remember his name right now, but he got up at the end and he talked about the fact that he was around for the Cold War and we got past it and now we’re in this new war and I was like, yeah, we may get past it, but we have to accept that we’re in that war first before we get past it. And I feel like I have been screaming that we’re in a cyber war for years before we even started to talk about Russia. There was a lot of, in my opinion, push-back from our side to even believe it existed in the first place. So what you hear now is the push-back that this is a hoax and this stuff isn’t real, and we’re starting to see more and more stories shared about the fact that not only was it real, but we had certain candidates participating in these activities.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. What do you say to folks with the point of view that this is a case of the chickens coming home to roost? Meaning that the United States has meddled in a lot of elections in Africa, in Muslim countries. Now some people believe they’re meddling in the politics in Iran. And so historically the United States has always meddled in other people’s elections. And so a Russian may say, ‘hey, we just got you real hard this time. You this is part of the game’.
Shireen Mitchell: I can’t deny any of that. One of the things that came out of yesterday was this conversation about the buying the botnets, buying the Russian farm to participate in different campaigns. It’s the same thing as the Kenyans, which has been recorded, buying American botnets to mess with the Kenyan election. So technically it’s Americans, but it’s about interference or changing a dynamic in a different country. It doesn’t matter where the botnets are bought, right? It’s more about what they’re trying to accomplish. And yes, I would say two things about the U.S., not only about us meddling, but I think that people fail to realize that if we look at this full circle when we go back to the Cold War concept at the conference, that when it was brought up, it was another moment for me because people don’t realize that the internet that we all now use was developed by the Defense Department as The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) against Sputnik, the Russians’ spy in space. And we thought that we could combat that by ARPANET, which eventually became the internet. And I think that people don’t connect the dots to that because that is, to me, the whole coming back to roost because we won the Cold War, we built the internet, and now Russia has used the internet to come back and attack us.
Jamarlin Martin: When some of the information started to come out in terms of the Russian meddling, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying that he thought it was crazy that Russia could use Facebook to meddle in an election or possibly flip an election, where the difference was about 30,000 votes. What does that say about, hey, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook including multiple social platforms that he’s controlling, that he’s dangerous. Because when you think about risk management and you look at the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, the financial system almost collapsed where people, the risk managers, they were asleep, they were just trying to make money and then it explodes in their face. They don’t really factor in how this can impact other things. And so when I think about Mark Zuckerberg, it makes me think about the financial crisis and the risk management at that point. And if he says that it’s crazy to think Russia could use this platform to tamper with democracy or American-style democracy. What are your thoughts on that in terms of is he fit to really run an organization at that scale?
Shireen Mitchell: So I would say his supporters would say he is fit, but I will agree that he completely missed the mark on this without question. His denial was, I think, rooted in his misunderstanding of what was actually happening on his platform despite the fact that he may have built the platform. I don’t think he understands how the platform’s being used and that would feel the same way in my conversation about Jack in terms of Twitter. They don’t understand how the platform is being used.
Jamarlin Martin: You would put them in the same box.
Shireen Mitchell: I would put them in the exact same box.
Jamarlin Martin: You don’t think like one’s drastically different in terms of their awareness, their greed or maturity.
Shireen Mitchell: I think we can say maturity, we can say greed. I mean at the end of the day, both of them were after scale. Scale meant that if there were fake accounts that was counted, right, because that gave them valuation. The more people, the more users, the more valuation and that’s what they were after. What that meant in terms of how that engagement happens on their platform, they were completely oblivious about and they were not participating in it, most of it, so they didn’t understand it from that concept. So my answer to you is, the greed of wanting to keep scaling for the purpose of making money, that made them unfit from that framework because they were not looking at it from what’s happening to the user. I would say now after the testimonies, after they both have testified in front of Congress, they would say, ‘oh no, we have to think about what the healthy environment actually looks like’, and now they’re paying attention to sort of the hate speech and engagement numbers from a different vantage point. But prior to this happening, they were not thinking about this at all and not only did Mark make a mistake, but Jack waited until after the election to ban all the accounts that were participating in the voter suppression, sharing those same ads that were going on on Facebook, and he didn’t do anything about it. I think the last time I saw a couple of ads coming from that and they decided to put the video out to tell people they can’t text their vote, was literally days before the election. So if you think about the ways in which they think about this, they were not thinking about this at all up until the actual election of 2016.
Jamarlin Martin: So from your perspective, let’s say in 2008, the bankers were super greedy in going after more mortgages, more money, and they did some crazy stuff that blew up. In this case it sounds like Twitter and Facebook, they’re going after more money, more accounts that they can tell Wall Street that they’re growing. You believe that they were aware that a lot of these accounts, maybe one out of three are fake, but we know they’re fake, but we want to keep them on because we want to keep growing and fool investors and the market.
Shireen Mitchell: Right? And even with the fake accounts, if you think about the way the bots operate or the way that these accounts operated, they were also building impressions, right? So they were actually helping to market, in some ways, each of these platforms. So it wasn’t just about increasing user base, it’s also increasing engagement. So you’re seeing people interact more on a more emotional level because again, some of the content was to sow discord, to have people disagreeing with each other, to have that level of back and forth engagement too. They were also after not paying attention to what was happening in the midst of that, not looking at the harm that was also being caused as that was happening, but that ultimately this was something that they thought would help them elevate as an industry, as a company. I would say now, if you told them that some of their lack paying attention caused genocide to happen, they would be horrified that that happened, which did happen on Facebook. With the Myanmar situation, with the Burmese where there was a whole group of people who were killed and some of that was organized on Facebook, that would be an example. They go, well, this is where it went wrong. Right? But that’s such a horrific thing to think about. Right? But that’s the end of it. The truth is there was a whole stream of other things happening that was leading to that, that they didn’t pay attention to. It wasn’t until the harmful thing happened that they go, okay, we need to pay closer attention. We need more moderators that are from Burma. We need more translators. We need more community to help us engage in this. But why after the most horrific thing happened, do they have to pay attention? They should be paying attention to the whole stream, but they weren’t because they were more interested in increasing engagement and impressions.
Jamarlin Martin: On that note, does this sound crazy, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, they’re not built to think about the risk and the impact of others. They may be optimized like, ‘Hey, I know how to run a company. I know how to go get that money and grow a company’. But when you start thinking about how it could impact kids and privacy and governments in that people can use this stuff to do really bad things, that these people may not be fit. And do you think it’s crazy that if something big happens that no one really thought of, like the last big thing which Facebook was used to influence the election. Could Facebook be nationalized or shut down by the government where there is a point of view, particularly from the left assuming that the left is in power, the point of view would be we don’t understand it, and Mark and Sheryl don’t understand it, so if we can’t understand the complexity of the risks at this massive scale, it’s best to shut it down or if somebody else has to take control of it. Do you think that sounds crazy?
Jamarlin Martin: I don’t think it sounds crazy, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I will say that right now with all the hearings that have happened over the last couple of years, there is a movement from our government to look at ways in which to regulate. So people have been talking about the GDPR and having these companies change some of their behavior to match the GDPR. What does that look like for the U.S.? I would say that parts of these conversations are literally pinned on who has control at that point and what they think that they’re helping to achieve. So there was a hearing last week on data and privacy, but the funny part is I think that hearing happened on Tuesday and Thursday, Facebook had the 90-million breach that happened. So they still don’t even know what their reaches are, and so what does that mean for us, as we’re giving our information over to them? I think that we’re going to start looking at different ways in which these companies will be monitored, but also I think looking at different ways that they will be monetized, because even though Facebook will will swear they don’t sell data, they harness the data for their financial gain and that’s gonna change the market going forward.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you personally have a Facebook account?
Shireen Mitchell: Yes.
Jamarlin Martin: Could you see anything that would probably get you to close your account down?
Shireen Mitchell: If I was going to close my account and I probably would have done it already. So here’s two things about me. Most of what I do professionally, I do on the social networks in the tech space, so I’m on because I’m monitoring the behavior. I’m actually watching what’s happening so I can see when people are trying to boost ads that are in support of activism or human rights or things like Black Lives Matter, and I’m watching how Facebook use their algorithms to keep those conversations from elevating. However, in essence, those who are speaking up against racism, those who are speaking up against sexism are being silenced more than those who are harassing or targeting or going after silencing those voices on the platforms. And I think that what has happened is that we are living in an environment where we see the healthy part of what we should be talking about because I think that the algos and these companies have already monetized the ugliness, the dystopic stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: They know they make the money off the bad stuff.
Shireen Mitchell: They know they’ve made the money off the bad stuff, and the algorithms have learned to operate from the bad stuff. And so if you heard Mark in his testimony, he said, ‘Hate speech, we’re going to have to have sophisticated algorithms for hate speech. But that may take us another three to five years’. Just think about that. Facebook was created when, 2003, 2005, 2004? So now we have another five years before you figured out how to deal with hate speech. And you didn’t deal with hate speech all the time before. We know hate speech existed the whole time. So why is it that there needs to be a sophisticated algorithm? It’s because you never even thought about the hate speech as an issue to even deal with in the first place, in the moderation process.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. So I want to recap last week in the news. This all happened in one week, I just want to get your thoughts on it. Disclosure, 2FA phone numbers are secretly used for ad targeting where you give your phone number to Facebook, essentially they’re using that phone number and their ad targeting without the consumer knowing. A Facebook exec who sold his company to Facebook, WhatApp, he was called low-class by a Facebook executive for criticizing Zuckerberg. Right after this Facebook executive calling this billionaire low-class, Zuckerberg announces a hack that could extend to 100 million users or possibly more including on platforms outside of Facebook. Then the next day, the head lobbyist at Facebook shows up in D.C. to support Kavanaugh. All in one week.
Shireen Mitchell: I saw all of those, and I was like, ‘What’s happening’. As someone who’s been in D.C. life and has seen a lot of stuff, everything you just listed was like the week that I was just like, do we all understand how integrated the tech is in our politics or do we still see the tech as a separate entity? And my feeling about all those things that you just said, really speaks volumes, I think there was an article that came out of the New Yorker where there was a question about, can Facebook fix themselves before they destroy democracy. And my commentary always goes back to their official theme or slogan on the wall was like, ‘move fast and break things’. And my feeling is he moved fast, he broke things and he broke democracy and everyone’s trying to figure out how to fix it. Not him, everybody else because he doesn’t know how to fix it because he doesn’t think about it from a democratic framework. And so his concept about being more connected and more engaged, it’s still about scale. It’s about how more people can touch more people across the scale and not about what that impact is on any of our democracies, not just the U.S., but across the globe.
Jamarlin Martin: That’s all they can think of actually. You mentioned something that’s very relevant to a recent quote by Sheryl Sandberg where in this disagreement she had, I believe with one of the Instagram founders, she said that ‘I don’t think that this would scale’. To your point, I believe their mind is really good at scaling things, taking risk, but in terms of managing the risk and thinking about how this could impact other communities, other marginalized communities, they would score an F at that stuff. I can go take the risk and go get the money and the users, but talk about protecting people. What’s that?
Shireen Mitchell: And I would say across the board that’s the same truth. So if you remember everyone, all the platforms had deplatformed Alex Jones and Jack had refused to do it and then Jack goes up onto Capitol Hill, and suddenly Alex Jones shows up on Capitol Hill. Now all of a sudden Jack wants to deplatform Alex Jones. Why? Because he had a face to face engagement with Alex Jones. That’s our problem. These people are talking about scaling, but they’re talking about the distance from the scaling. So they want to scale all these groups of people, but they don’t want those groups of people in the same room with them.
Jamarlin Martin: Should Alex Jones be deplatformed.
Shireen Mitchell: Yes!
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. And what’s your case? Take Alex Jones to court for me in terms of why he needs to be deplatformed across the board.
Shireen Mitchell: The reason is very simple. Just historically, let me just go back to my own background. I formed the first organization to get women and girls of color into tech back in 1999. And during that time I would post on Youtube about different videos and commercials and the ways in which they targeted or didn’t target communities of color. I was deplatformed from Youtube in 2009. This argument with Alex Jones just came up and all of a sudden they give me back my access. Why? I think I know why, because deplatforming me speaking up about diversity is one argument that they just don’t want to have on their platforms.
Jamarlin Martin: You were deplatformed yourself, which is not surprising, but I’ll share my view after.
Shireen Mitchell: Don’t be surprised by that. But what I found very interesting was his conspiracy theory framework was making him millions on these platforms. They were also making ad money off of it as well. Yet he was using those videos to not only harass and target other people, but to also tell lies. He was literally the proponent of the biggest hoax conversation about the Sandy Hook kids. And he didn’t get deplatformed until he went after the teens of Parkland. And the only reason that happened is because the teens could talk back. Those kids who were five and six years old. Not only could they not talk back, but they were harassing the parents and telling them, prove to us your children were ever alive in the first place. There is no reason on any platform that someone who’s doing that should exist.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay, so let’s say you’re right. Alex Jones is telling lies, things that are proven to be untrue. He’s a conspiracy theorist and is bad society. Let’s say you’re right. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, he says that we have to be careful because based on what I’ve seen in the Silicon Valley streets, I’ve been in these streets, I’ve IPOed two companies. I’ve been in this game. We are biased to the left. So Jack Dorsey says, ‘Based on my experience in Silicon Valley in tech, we are heavily biased left’. He acknowledges that they’re heavily biased left, but most likely they’re going to be heavily biased white. They could be heavily biased anti-black, and so if these biases contaminate the policy decisions…
Shireen Mitchell: They do.
Jamarlin Martin: If they start going after Alex Jones who can make a phone call to Trump, he can call certain Republican congressman, but if that door is open, how much risk develops on the black side where, ‘Hey, I’ve known a lot of black folks who bang against the establishment’. They talk against Facebook. They talk against racist white supremacists and Facebook, Google, they come against them. And so I would think that if the policy enforcement is cranked up and the content police start showing up around all the streets and in media and social media, they all start coming out. Who do you think is going to be going to jail first? It seems like it would be a lot more deplatforming proportionally on the folks who are banging against the powerful, banging against Silicon Valley, banging against the establishment.
Shireen Mitchell: Let’s go back to the beginning, right? Because social media as it’s thought process in the beginning was to allow those marginal voices to have a platform in a way to go against the establishment. And somehow we’re on this other side of it asking the question you just asked, right. Who’s going to be silenced now? But the truth is we’ve been silenced the whole time. We’ve been given some level of platform but we have not been given the same level as others. So this conversation about me and then Alex Jones, that would be the prime example. So I’m deplatformed for speaking up against the establishment or speaking up against white supremacy, speaking up for diversity. But Alex Jones is talking something that is actually completely untrue and factually untrue and documented as untrue, but he’s not only given the platform but he’s given the platform he can make money from. I mean that’s something to talk about too. I’ll go back to Diamond and Silk, who they were talking about on the Hill too. And they were talking about how Facebook had banned them. And then Facebook has said that they were not healthy for the community. But the same thing is true for them. They’re not doing it as the advocacy, they’re doing it for money, they’re doing it to raise money for their cause and their issues, not for anti-establishment. And that has been very clear about the whole thing. I think representative Hank Johnson, he is the one who brought it up and they went off on him about it because he was like, ‘This is a situation where you guys are making money’. I get it, I get what you’re trying to do, but you know, that’s not the same thing. We have yet to come past those two conversations, the conversation of having a platform so we can elevate our voices as a group like Black Lives Matter and others who are trying to say we need to change the society that we’re in because what’s happening to us is horrible versus those people who want to use the platform to say whatever they want, freely and make money off of it. They’re not the same thing. And this is really important because, I was at a conference in June, I believe, called the Personal Democracy Forum, and Facebook’s VP of product who was focused on some of the civic tech space. He got up there and he said, we have the capability of removing hate speech in an instant, we have the algos that can do that. How many people want to see that? And people start raising their hands. Of course you wouldn’t see that. Then his second question is, what happens if those algos are used and one political party is removed the most over another. And even I was going, ‘If they’re using hate speech, so what? Why is that even the comparison? Why are we having an argument about a political party who’s using hate speech that gets their content taken down?’ What’s the equation there? Right? But it’s about censorship. It’s like, oh, the perception of being seen as censoring one group over another is more important than the hate speech that’s happening.
Jamarlin Martin: If cracking down on Alex Jones and others means that there’s 100,000 new content police out there and they’re going to police people differently, meaning that the biases we see in our community, in the black community with the real police, but the contemplated if they’re going to hire 100,000 people to look at all this stuff that’s, that’s produced online and policing is biased. Is that a good trade for us? Meaning that, when Alex Jones is taken down, it doesn’t just end there, right? These people have very powerful connections. So what they’re going to say is, they’re going to start pointing to black lives matter, whatever they post. They’re going to start pointing to stuff that I may produce or you may produce or you may say, and they try to form this equivalency, right? They are doing that though. And so, hey, if the cost of bending Alex Jones across hosting providers, newsletter providers, PayPal, where you really crack down on his content, if that means that you’re going to see a lot of arbitrary policing in black media in the production of black content. Is that an acceptable trade?
Shireen Mitchell: I don’t think that’s even a question to be asked. And here’s the reason I’m saying this. First of all, Alex Jones should never have been able to get the platform that he has in the first place. We allowed that because we allowed that level of white nationalist framework to exist in a bubble without being checked at all. While that was happening, us as a black community in our activism, us in our ways in which we were speaking out, we were still being policed. That was still happening. The moderation was still banning, at a higher rate, black women who spoke up about racism while Alex Jones was not being silenced at all. Right? So I want to make sure that I pin that, because I think that there’s no comparison to that. What I will say is this, there is a constant juxtaposition that people try to have, right? The KKK and the black panthers, they’re not equivalent, right? But that’s how people want to see the world. Right? The same way that if you look at the moderation process, a black person saying white people or white folks is somehow supposed to be equivalent to a white person saying the N-word. Those are not the same thing. A White person saying black people is equivalent, but a white person saying the N-word is nowhere near equivalent to a black person saying ‘white people’. And the fact that people think that that is true or even that the moderation process in these tech companies are accepting that to be true. That in itself is the failure and that’s the part that needs to be fixed.
Jamarlin Martin: This is an area that you have been a OG in in terms of looking at the hiring practices out of the tech companies and trying to get more of our people into tech, that if the data shows that these companies get an F at bringing in people who look like us, if the data shows that you may be one percent of the engineers, you may be one percent of the policy team that makes these decisions. So if the police within these institutions, we don’t even make up maybe one percent, I don’t trust it enough where if they start going down this lane I just think that the crackdown on a lot of the people who are in our community who are courageous to really like, hey, I don’t care about getting jobs. ‘I don’t care about getting money. I just want to speak the truth’. They will be cracking down on our communities. They’re already hiring a lot more police officers and they’re cranking up their policy departments.
Shireen Mitchell: So I agree that they’re cranking up and I am going to make the same argument. The same way that they couldn’t see what the Russians were doing because the Russians were targeting black identity, and they missed the mark on that, is the same reason that they have yet to hire the diversity in their companies, and until that part shifts, because let me just tell you…
Jamarlin Martin: It’s connected to their hiring.
Shireen Mitchell: It’s connected to their hiring. It’s connected to the ways in which the algorithms are working or the way people are looking at the moderation process. They keep talking about changing the moderation process. I’ve said this multiple times, hire five black women to look at your moderation process and I guarantee with any tech company, it will be fixed in a hot second, because they’ll be able to see things that none of their staff have ever been able to see, including Mark himself and Jack himself. And my issue with this is that they’re trying to avoid, in everything I see, even though we’re having this conversation about race, they are trying to avoid the race conversation, period. Right? Let’s just be honest, Facebook was formed as a hot-or-not platform in the first place. And if you look at every checkbox that Facebook has, they have every checkbox you can be, except you can’t check your ethnicity. That’s a flaw in the product itself. So that means there’s a flaw in the design and it’s a flaw in the system of the organization that Facebook happened to be built on the basis of. So if you can’t check the box for ethnicity, that means you’re not looking at anything on your platform, around ethnicity at all. That’s a flaw in your product. And that can be fixed. But that’s where the choices about what do you decide to fix it that at that particular moment.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you take issue with Twitter’s decision to uncheck Louis Farrakhan and keep Donald Trump’s check? I’m sitting back and thinking about it. Some of the people in our community, they may say things that are very offensive to communities. But we don’t have any real power, right? And so, words are inferior to policy decisions and power influence, and so what Donald Trump does in terms of building the wall, stopping folks from Africa coming over here, targeting people of certain race, that the white supremacy of Donald Trump and the racism of Donald Trump, because he’s powerful, he gets to keep the check mark because of what could happen. So these type of policies will benefit the people who are doing bad things with power and they may hurt communities that don’t have a lot of power that are speaking up, and I think that it highlights the problem. If you’re really going to be consistent on your policy, why does Donald Trump gets to keep his check mark?
Shireen Mitchell: So I have a different argument about this. And the reason why I have an argument about this is that it goes back to the same argument about the power dynamics. Why are people upset about Farrakhan and why are people upset about Donald Trump? And the distance between those two things are the things that we’re not talking about. And here’s the basis of what I classify as the white nationalism or the separatism, because Facebook has made announcements about why they want to look at this global perspective, looking at the zionists, looking at the black separatists and looking at the white nationalists as if they’re equal. None of that is equal. And the reason that we’re not having the conversations necessary is again, about the people who have created these platforms. The difference between the white nationalists is that they hate anyone who isn’t a white nationalist or isn’t purely white and they don’t want their culture to be to be infiltrated in any way. That turns into harmful actions. Black separatists are literally protecting themselves from the white nationalists. That is not equal. And so even to bring up the conversation as if these things are equal, they’re not.
Jamarlin Martin: But I want to just highlight the power discrepancy.
Shireen Mitchell: There is a power discrepancy against that. They are protecting themselves. And if you have a community that’s trying to protect themselves from harm, that’s the community you should be paying more attention to. Not the ones who not only say the most horrific things but can actually do the harm, and that’s where, I don’t even name him, but I call him ‘agent orange 45’. He can institute the harms against Brown and Black people in a way that we cannot, even in retaliation, we cannot.
Jamarlin Martin: I want to hop back to talk about public policy and lobbying. As you know, Google and Facebook, part of their success has a lot to do with cultivating politicians.
Shireen Mitchell: Yes.
Jamarlin Martin: Particularly Barack Obama, Cory Booker. They’ve been sticking their claws into a lot of politicians and they groomed them early, they’re long-term players and they want something back. And so we haven’t really seen any type of regulatory review. Google, Facebook, they’ve been allowed to run wild on privacy, wild wild west, do whatever you want. They are in deep, what I would say with Democrats mostly, that they’ve been cultivating more so Democrat politicians for a long time. Particularly one, I believe, an executive that doesn’t get a lot of credit, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and chairman of Google, they brought him in early on, but he played the lobbying game really, really well and it shows in their results. How do you feel about, I know of a more than a few executives at Google, at Facebook where they are hiring the children of Congress folks, and some black folks, I’m not going to pop up their name, but in China, the U.S. Government cracked down on JP Morgan trying to hire the children of Chinese communist officials as part of their hiring practices to curry favor with the Chinese government. But I’m starting to see what looks like some of that stuff here where Google and Facebook and some of the elites in Silicon Valley, they will target and recruit the children of Congress folks. What are your thoughts on that? They’re big companies to be fair, and a lot of people want to work there.
Shireen Mitchell: Of course we want to work there and of course people want to have some level of influence if they can across the board. I would say, I would not be surprised by any of this, because I was around and doing campaign work around 2008 when all this started to change the way in which social media and the political process started to change a little bit too. I would say that that changed the way we look at politics and I also think it gave us the open door to where we are now, right? Because because of that cultivation that you’re talking about. I also will say that I think Barack Obama tried his best in some ways to cultivate, to be a more tech-savvy government, which is really complicated, but also it was a very important shift in the government too. There was a real view on how we could look at the world from different perspectives and he had so many different agencies that were focused, some of them are shut down now because of the new administration, but there was a real push to look at the merging between tech and government.
Jamarlin Martin: And how to use technology to step up our game.
Shireen Mitchell: Step up our game, across board, not just in the U.S., just across the board. So I want to mark that because I think that’s still very important and I still think it was a very important part of our history. What I will say, as a result of that is what you’re saying, there’s still this cultivation happening and lack of criticism about the bad things that have gone down. Right? Because when Zuckerberg came to testify, his testimony is not sworn in testimony. He was never sworn in. Everybody else’s sworn in. So that says that there’s a little bit of leeway that he’s been given, by everybody. The Dems didn’t say ‘you didn’t swear in’. So yes, in my opinion, some of these Hill visits by these tech cos have some bias in them. I think that them coming up now to have a conversation with now who’s in power, conservativism, that’s going to have a bias in it. What I want to get at is, even though I think that people think that the tech companies lean more left, I would say that may be true to some extent, but that does not mean that they lean more progressive or lean more pro-diversity.
Jamarlin Martin: True.
Shireen Mitchell: What does happen in your conversation is that we still lean more elite. So we’re talking more of a class conversation, and that’s where I think our failure is in having this conversation because in this instance that balance is more about class than it is about diversity or political affiliation.
Jamarlin Martin: You’ve done over a decade of working to get more African-Americans, more women in technology. You’ve been at this for a long time. Based on your experience, I talked to a lot of folks and they’re like, ‘Google’s not doing this, Facebook’s not doing this, Amazon’s not doing this, they’re not helping the community. They’re not hiring us’. Right? So we’ve heard that for a while now. What do you say to this point of view that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, let’s call it big tech in general, if the problem is represented as a 100 percent, let’s say all the people were like, ‘Hey, Google, Facebook, you guys need to do this’, let’s say it’s 70 percent their fault, and let’s say it’s 30 percent on the community. If you look at that pie, how much of it is on us, where the work that you’re doing, the work others are doing, that we have to step up the game even further in our community, to the needle on the things that we really care about or do you take the position like, hey it’s really on big tech?
Shireen Mitchell: No, I never take a position on either or which is it’s got to be this way or that way. I’m more of the person who says we have to do both and more. And so even if it is 70 percent of the tech companies.
Jamarlin Martin: What percentage would you say that, hey, this is just us organizing, unifying, pulling our resources, that there’s stuff that we need to do and it’s going to take time, it’s not all on them? What percentage would you say, hey, this is on us?
Shireen Mitchell: I will keep your number. I would say it would be still around 30 percent.
Jamarlin Martin: Within that 30 percent, let’s say, hey, I’m Google and I want to hire the best, and inequities in society, that’s not my problem. I’m just going to hire the best, and I’m agnostic on race and say, ‘hey you guys, we need to see more top quality black engineers, and in the culture, you guys are overweight entertainment, athletics’. A lot of folks want to play football, want to play basketball, want to rap, and so a lot of this in terms of really moving the needle, whether it’s with them or outside of them, either way to really move the needle here, we’re gonna have to remix our culture internally where there’s a premium on technology, engineering, starting meaningful businesses, and a lot of this is on us and whether you go through their pipeline, or you create your own pipeline, but a lot of it is remixing our culture and resetting our priorities.
Shireen Mitchell: I would say two things because I’ve dealt with this stuff all the time. I actually went out to, what’s his name, the millionaire, the rapper who came out investor.
Jamarlin Martin: I don’t want to… Yeah, he’s an investor.
Shireen Mitchell: He’s also an investor, right? Just so we’re clear. So I want to make sure that we understand it. So MC Hammer, rapper also investor, right? But they’re investing in the tech companies but they’re not invested in the black kids. And that’s where some of the problem is.
Jamarlin Martin: So you’re saying even the black investors who are getting into the game…
Shireen Mitchell: They’re not investing in us. They’re still giving the money to the white boys, it’s not us. Because the truth is the white boys will invite them there for the sake of the fact that they want to get the numbers of the black community present, but they want them as consumers, not as creators and they don’t take the stage. Because I approached him when he took the stage some years ago, I think it was like 2010, and I was supposed to be on the stage and I was taken off the stage by the way. It was like this whole women panel and I was like going to be the only black woman. Then they still took me off the stage, by the way. Erika Alexander was there that that year too, and she had a project that she was working on and you just get the whole sense of it’s not just us not trying, it’s the fact that the ones who get up on the stage, they’re not pulling us up on the stage with them. They still yelling out to the stage to all the white guys in the room. ‘You’re the best. You’re the greatest. You’re the geekdoms. I come here being dumb and get smart by you’. And they should be saying, ‘I came here. You white boys need to come get my kids, who, who hang out with me, who do the work that I do, and have them come into the same room with you if you want me to come here again.
Jamarlin Martin: It sounds like, tell me if I’m crystallizing this correctly, that just as Clarence Thomas is not going to get us any more justice, he’s actually going to push us the wrong way. When you get these diversity of faces or even black investors, ‘we need black investors’, all because the investors black does it mean they care deeply about tackling this problem in terms of they’re sincere in wanting to address this and move their people forward, ‘hey, my focus is just on a good return and I can lower my risk if I go along with these other white investors who just tend to exclude my community’.
Shireen Mitchell: Yeah. You’re paying to have your community excluded. That makes no sense. You want to make some more money, that’s fine, but you’re also participating in the system which excludes the people who look like you and where you came from, and so even though I would say even on us and the sense of trying to shift the narrative about being an entertainer, being a rapper, or being a basketball player, I would say every one of them has a responsibility to go back and say, ‘hey, let’s, let’s make sure that we’re investing in these kids who are actually trying to do something’.
Jamarlin Martin: So you’re not really getting excited about, let’s say Kobe Bryant, Nas, Jay-Z, they have all launched venture capital firms, because the way you read it in terms of you’re well seasoned and you have a lot of experiences. That headline sounds good, but maybe when we start to open up the books, I might see five percent of the money going to people who look like me and that’s not really going to help us move the needle.
Shireen Mitchell: No, that’s not. And it’s the same problem. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I I think people have to make their choices about where they want to spend their dollars no matter what happens. But if you were talking about cultivating an environment which you know, you had a difficult getting through yourself, or you think that there’s an opportunity for some technology to exist that no one else has done before, you can’t keep going to the same people who you know have been doing it over and over again, messing it up constantly repeating the same problems over and over again, versus giving it to people who can with just even small amounts of money could probably change the tune of the tech industry in a heartbeat.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. And what would you say of Nas, Kobe and Jay-Z, they came back and said, ‘Look, I’m new to this investment game, and I’m smartly going in with seasoned partners’. These partners have been in this game for 20 years. These investors know how to do due diligence. They know how to look at deals. And so, ‘because I’m new to angel investing or venture capital investing, it’s smart for me to partner with more experienced investors who happen to be white and I can reduce my risk by piggybacking off of their deals’. And so ‘Hey, I get that I need to be investing more in my community, but because I’m new, I’m going to start this off by piggybacking on a more experienced investor’.
Shireen Mitchell: I have an easy answer to that, which you already probably know the answer to. If that’s how you feel about it, then put your money in Backstage Capital and call it a day. That’s where it’s going to happen and that’s where you’re gonna get your return then and that work is going to happen and still be able to give back to the communities of color. So if you feel that way, that’s where you put your money.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. For the GHOGH audience, where can they check you out on Twitter and online?
Shireen Mitchell: I am the original digital sista, so everything online is @digitalsista, D I G I T A L S I S T A, on Twitter, Facebook and across the whole spectrum.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Make sure you check out Shireen Mitchell. Thanks for coming on the show. She’s an OG who’s been in these tech streets for a long time. Thanks for coming on the show.
Shireen Mitchell: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Jamarlin Martin: Let’s GHOGH! Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me on out @JamarlinMartin on Twitter and also to come check us out at https://moguldom.com/. That’s M O G U L D O M.com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!