U of Illinois library website decries 'digital blackface'

The website instructs students how to avoid 'digital blackface' on social media.

Students are encouraged to utilize 'Plus Sized Stock Photos,' 'The Gender Spectrum Collection,' 'Disabled and Here Collection,' and other albums for greater diversity.

The University of Illinois’ library system has published an ”Avoiding Digital Blackface” page on the ”Social Media Accessibility & Inclusivity” section of its website. 

The university uses a 2006 master’s thesis to define digital blackface as “the way which technology allows non-Black people to ‘try out’ Black identities online.”

“Digital Blackface can range from non-Black people creating fake twitter accounts posing as Black (often posting anti-Black messages, or defending anti-Black celebrities) to non-Black people excessively using reaction GIFs featuring Black people,” says the site.

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Other examples of “digital blackface” include using GIFs of Black people for “funny reactions” and using African-American vernacular “even though none of the staff in charge are Black.” To address these pitfalls, the library admonishes readers to “make sure that Black people are widely represented in a variety of roles in your social media posts.”

The library system likewise discusses the importance of “finding diverse images” for social media posts.

“As an organization, it’s important that images you use for social media represent the wide range of users you intend to reach,” explains the site. “But if you’ve ever used a search engine like Google, Unsplash, or Pixabay to search for images of people (a student, doctor, teacher, etc...), you may have noticed that the majority of images are of white, able-bodied people.”

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The site expresses concern that “certain searches, like ‘IT worker,’ also tend to have extreme gender bias.” Meanwhile, “visibly queer people are scarcely pictured in image search results.”

The library offers several resources to address the lack of diversity in social media stock images — including photo galleries like “Plus Sized Stock Photos,” “The Gender Spectrum Collection,” “Disabled and Here Collection,” and “nappy.”

Campus Reform reached out to the university for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

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