Issues

The Future of the Internet: Innovation, Policy and Communities of Color

Introduction

As the innovation economy continues to flourish, communities of color continue to make inroads in achieving a more diverse and inclusive tech future. We see much to inspire us and much to give us pause. We are proud of the critical contributions that leaders in communities of color are making across diverse areas, from business to advocacy to healthcare to reform of our sentencing processes.

The Arab Spring Black Lives Matter, Dreamers, and the Dakota Access Pipeline movements have transformed the power of grassroots advocacy in underrepresented communities. DeShuna Spencer’s Kweli TV and Beatriz Acevedo’s MiTu are creating new and exciting distribution networks for creators of color. Mirza Baig (Aldrich Capital Partners), Kesha Cash (Impact America Fund), and Carolina Huaranca Mendoza (Kapor Center) are paving the way for diverse businesses to stand up and be counted in the digital economy.  We recognize that the Internet has made possible much of the work of these visionaries. We also recognize that additional strategies are required to ensure that these pathways remain accessible to all of our communities. 

As technology grows, it is important that we prepare to address the challenges and opportunities at hand. For example, artificial intelligence and big data analytics are increasing the lens through which decision makers determine the nature of access, opportunity, and mobility. The same algorithms that could reduce the subjectivity and racial biases in our institutions could easily perpetuate and even entrench that bias and subjectivity. The same solutions that restore dignity to the experience of hailing transportation can reduce the dignity of the driver who does not have access to traditional labor benefits and protections.

Important work has already been done by leaders in communities of color to outline the nature of the policies that should govern in a digital society. We hope to build on these projects by continuing to showcase their voices and experiences.

This paper highlights stories of leaders making a difference in several key e areas: Access; Economic Opportunity & Entrepreneurship; Artificial Intelligence, Data and Privacy; Expression and Intellectual Property (IP); and Civic Engagement and Democracy. It outlines what is needed to protect and grow their f projects and suggests areas for policymakers and other stakeholders to help.

Access

Even as the privileged among us are lamenting the dangers of online oversaturation, there are still too many communities of color that lack access to at-home, high-speed Internet, a tool that makes innovation, communication, and mobility possible in the 21st century. We celebrate the work of leaders who are innovating to make the promise of ubiquitous Internet access a reality for everyone in our communities. These leaders include:

  • The Center for Media Justice’s Malkia Cyril who is helping empower communities of color in the fight to gain broadband access and to protect against abusive surveillance policies.

We are inspired by these leaders who are committed to expanding digital access. Policymakers, corporations, and other stakeholders can help by:

Enacting Policies and Innovative Solutions to Fully Close the Digital Divide. Policies should promote equitable deployment to low-income and other marginalized communities and prohibit deployment practices that systematically discriminate against these groups. Communities that face geographic barriers or live in low population densities will need additional resources to get broadband access. For communities that have an infrastructure capable of providing access to high-speed broadband, affordable rates and competitive markets are also essential to closing the digital divide. Policies designed to address affordability, like theFederal Communications Commission’s  Lifeline program, should continue to provide support for affordable broadband services.

Protecting an Open Internet. Meaningful access to the Internet requires a reliable, non-discriminatory connection from a broadband service provider. An open Internet is fundamental to ensuring that the voices of underrepresented groups are heard. We need clear, bright-line, enforceable rules to prevent discrimination that would limit a user’s ability to use the Internet as a platform for speech, civic engagement, free expression, innovation, and economic empowerment.

Promoting Spectrum Policies That Promote Sharing and Innovation. Policies must acknowledge that spectrum is a scarce resource that must be used efficiently. Those policies must promote fair and balanced allocation of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and preserve shared space for the experimentation necessary to develop innovative connectivity solutions.

Economic Opportunity and Entrepreneurship

Communities of color and women, while too often underrepresented among the leadership of the Fortune 500 companies, are strategically leveraging the innovation economy to create new businesses, products, and solutions – or to increase the efficiency and profitability of their existing businesses. Whether the entrepreneur is his or herself the “brand,” social media and digital marketing is expanding the customer base traditionally accessible to our communities. The leaders we recognize in this section have carved out their own spaces in traditional industries, building multiple streams of revenue among the digital communities they cultivate.

  • Celebrity chef Aliya LeeKong may not have a restaurant, but you can try her recipes, read her books, or download her children’s app – which celebrates food, travel and culture – all by following her online, as thousands have already done.

These businesses are using the digital economy to grow their profiles and profitability, but they can expand even more quickly and make an even greater impact if they have the right business and policy environment. Even better, supportive policies will pave the way for more talented diverse entrepreneurs to join them. Policies and practices to support POC digital entrepreneurs include:

Supporting Openness and Neutrality.  Policymakers, tech companies and the financial services industry can help by keeping the Internet open and accessible and by making it easier for diverse businesses and digital entrepreneurs to access capital and navigate the digital transition.

Improving and Safeguarding Minority Access to Capital.  Tech companies should fund robust minority business investment funds – like the Impact America Fund and Intel Capital Diversity Initiative, support accelerators and incubators like Tech Square Labs, and require those doing business with them to do the same.  Modest efforts are woefully insufficient.  Access to capital is a massive problem warranting significant remedial efforts.  Limited access to collaboration, strategic partnerships, and merger and acquisition opportunities further depress the value of minority businesses. These corporate functions should be monitored and improved by all effective corporate diversity programs. Tech companies should also require more from their financial services partners to ensure that these companies are taking affirmative steps to remedy these access to capital issues.

Support minority business growth and access to capital. Vibrant minority investment and commercial banks are critical to creating an economic system that reflects the diversity of this country. Governments should reinvigorate existing loan guarantee and investment fund programs to incubate and grow minority tech businesses. 

Educating Minority Small Business Owners about the Potential of New Technologies. Policymakers should build upon resources like the SBA Digital Learning Center, which helps small businesses digitize their businesses and provides hands-on coaching for those with low digital proficiency. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recently noted that a majority of Black and Latino-owned businesses have websites, while a smaller number have mobile-friendly websites and only a small number have mobile apps. Less than half of those businesses used digital tools to run their businesses, even though these tools can save time and money.  Companies and other stakeholders can make similar investments, like the Grow with Google initiative, to make digital learning more accessible. 

Expression and Intellectual Property Policy

The Internet has opened up unprecedented opportunities for diverse communities to speak, create, educate, and entertain by building a direct connection with their audience. When mainstream media outlets fail to serve to communities of color with relatable content or to resolve lingering issues of under-representation and misrepresentation, communities of color have sought out digital mediums to tell their stories. In some cases, this has led to larger networks recognizing previously overlooked talent and in other cases, it has given a platform to voices that would otherwise be silenced.

However, the same freedom that has allowed us to share our too often unheard and unseen content to be accessed, has also provided space for voices that promote hate and the marginalization of our communities to flourish. We believe that outlining the boundaries of the digital public sphere is a matter for grave deliberation. We must address the ways in which hate speech and conspiracy theories have flourished, often dangerously so. .At the same time, we must aggressively protect against any censorship – promoted by government or by the private sector – that would limit or inhibit the ability of our communities and POC creators to speak, create, and be fairly compensated for their work.

We are inspired by the storytellers, advocates and educators who are maximizing and protecting our digital forums for free expression.

  • YouTube creator Glen Henry is the creator of the successful YouTube channel Beleaf in Fatherhood. The stay-at-home father of three and a loving husband documents his experience as a Black father in America, a role that is widely subject to stereotyping and skepticism. Henry not only shares his journey as a father with his audience of 110,000 followers, but he also challenges the misconception that Black dads aren’t around for their kids — a stereotype often heightened by TV and film’s portrayals of black families.
  • Dallas Goldtooth and his comedy troupe “The 1491’s,” use sketch comedy and 500,000 YouTube followers to advocate for Indigenous culture and values and fight lingering stereotypes about Native communities. Dallas works as an advocate for the Indigenous Environmental Network, whose mission is to “protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by respecting and adhering to indigenous knowledge and natural law.”
  • The Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice (IIPSJ) was established to promote social justice in the field of intellectual property law and practice, both domestically and globally. Through core principles of access, inclusion, and empowerment, IIPSJ works to advance the social policy objectives that underlie intellectual property protection.
  • In partnership with IIPSJ, Creative Control is an innovative program and event series connecting creatives of color to experts in IP policy for education and free legal services. Creative Control works to make the IP system more accessible for marginalized communities so that creators can safely produce content and be compensated fairly for their work.
  • The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has been advocating since 1988 for policies that ensure that First Amendment guarantees of free speech remain at the forefront of policy creation. Rather than censoring hateful online actors, they work hard to partner with tech companies and Hollywood to increase fair and representative depictions of Muslims and the Muslim community and to promote mainstream content. They also serve as a resource to better understand how overbroad targeting of “buzz words” [JM1] can have a dangerous and disparate impact on underrepresented communities.

Policymakers and stakeholders can help by:

Protecting the Open Internet.  Creative content should be on the same footing as “big” business. Creators need access to distribution platforms to remain available but also require the ability to launch their own platforms and fairly drive traffic to their own sites. 

Enforcing and Updating Copyright Protections.  Maintain a system of balanced copyright that allows for both the creation and monetization of new works and protection of freedom of speech and expression. Exceptions and limitations, such as fair use, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors, play a key role in maintaining this balance. Without these parts of copyright law, creatives’ ability to create, document their lives and experiences, reach their communities, and grow their businesses would be severely restricted. In addition, policymakers should recognize that creators have grave concerns about any policy that makes it more likely that their content – too often unfairly characterized as “controversial”— be removed or demonetized.

Tracking Contributions by POC in the Digital Space.  Develop strategies to better quantify and recognize the unique contributions of our communities to the IP of the United States and to promote better education and access to the tools that allow for us to properly benefit from our creative work.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that can be used to advance both positive and negative outcomes for business and society. Artificial intelligence not only has access to large swaths of our personal data and information, but it also can observe, learn, and replicate the actions of everyday life including those tainted by discrimination and institutionalized bias. While recent developments in AI can help illuminate the biases impacting people of color, they can also easily perpetuate them. Policies that analyze algorithms and data sets, promote transparency and require accountability for systemic bias in artificial intelligence must be developed carefully to balance the need to fight systemic discrimination while incorporating the benefits of this growing technology.

We celebrate  leaders of color in AI, including:

  • Mirza Baig, whose Aldrich Capital has invested significant funds into Woundtech, a company that uses TensorFlow (open source AI) to treat diabetic wounds, which are disproportionately suffered in communities of color. Using AI, Woundtech has made unprecedented advances in wound care. Black in AI and LatinX in AI are organizations convened to research, collaborate, and advocate on AI issues impacting communities of color. These organizations include leading engineers, data scientists, and activists interested in ensuring that AI is implemented fairly and benefits all,   Their ongoing research in this space should be required reading by anyone intending to develop equitable AI.    
  • Phil Goff, founder of The Center for Policing Equity, uses AI to drive the National Justice Database (NJD), a tool to identify racial bias in policing. The NJD also includes a Juvenile Justice and Education component intended to address school to prison pipeline issues in both school and justice systems.

Policymakers, tech companies and other stakeholders can ensure the growth of AI is equitable and beneficial by:

Promoting efforts to train and hire AI experts of color. When it comes to reducing bias in AI, challenges in diversity hiring and retention must be tackled with great urgency. Pipeline programs, in-company career pathways, and aggressive efforts to identify and engage talented people of color are absolutely necessary.

Bolstering the capacity of civil society to leverage data and AI to advance social justice, including identifying and remediating existing societal biases. Efforts like the New America Center for Civic Tech are a great example of how sectors can come together to ensure that commercial or business products are not the only outcomes of this powerful technology.

Developing ethical principles and processes for the development and use of AI. Thoughtfully deploying AI systems, particularly in areas that carry a high risk of significant harm to communities of color, such as the criminal justice system, government surveillance and employment and credit screening.

Creating meaningful and accessible transparency and accountability mechanisms. Companies, governments and others should ensure that – wherever possible – AI is as transparent and accountable as possible at every stage of design, deployment, evolution and use. 

Designing AI to actively address bias. AI should be designed with the capability to remedy the effects of algorithmic bias and bad data. Eliminating disparities should be a primary objective in the tech community’s design, implementation, and use of artificial intelligence.

Industrywide focus and prioritization of AI initiatives that benefit communities of color. Broad adaptation of AI technology is dependent upon goodwill generated by leveraging the technology for good. Too often, communities of color become afterthoughts in the deployment of new technologies (digital divide, education tech, digital equity). The tech industry should prioritize and focus its investments and partnerships in AI areas showing significant potential in improving the lives of people of color. 

Data Security and Privacy

The success of the innovation economy—particularly in the context of AI is fueled by the growing use of our personal data. As the collection and use of our data become more prevalent, the benefits of AI must be balanced against the risks such collection entails. The histories of the Tuskegee Study, Henrietta Lacks, and Japanese internment during World War II illustrate the significant and unique impact of privacy and data security policies on communities of color. Particularly in the areas of health data, genetic testing, and criminal justice, it is imperative that public policies require the stewards of our data to reduce risks, mitigate damage, compensate those affected when breaches occur and empower our communities to protect themselves. Moreover, these remedies must be policed for unintended consequences that make compliance burdensome for small entrepreneurs.

Several digital rights organizations are taking the lead on privacy:

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) provides assistance to tech startups by organizing resources and giving updates on advances in privacy and security law. The Tech Policy Program for Startups program enables new businesses to build requisite protocols into their operations at the early stages of business incubation. CDT also studies and advocates on privacy and data security laws.

The Center for Media Justice (CMJ) has a data security campaign focused on communities of color. The #Defend our Movements project is “a web-based clearinghouse of the most up-to-date and useful information about protecting your devices and data–whether on the Internet, through cell phone communications, or in your home or office.”

Resources should be made available to assist small businesses in complying with privacy and data security mandates. Moreover, legislation affecting the use of AI should be based on existing, consensus-driven privacy and data security frameworks such as the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs).

Civic Engagement and Democracy

From hyper-partisanship to information overload to policies that make it harder to vote, there is a continuum of reasons for our communities to be underrepresented at the polls and in our political representation. At its best, technology can spur civic engagement, by exposing information that traditional cannot or will not. At its worst, technology can promote conspiracy theories and inaccurate information, or even make our election systems vulnerable.

We are excited by the work of organizations like:

Voto Latino is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to engaging young Latinxs in the civic process through culture, technology, and media. Over the last 14 years, Voto Latino has launched various campaigns, like National Voter Registration Day, and new technologies to help facilitate voter registration, including their app, VoterPal, which makes registering to vote as easy as taking a selfie. Together with its supporters and partners, we aim to build a more diverse and inclusive democracy

The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) is the only organization exclusively representing over 500 African-American mayors across the United States. AAMA seeks to empower local leaders for the benefit of their citizens. The role of the AAMA includes taking positions on public policies that impact the vitality and sustainability of cities, providing mayors with leadership and management tools, and creating a forum for member mayors to share best practices related to municipal management.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that has served as the leading Asian American voice on civil rights issues in Washington, DC,  since 1993. Advancing Justice – AAJC has worked with tech companies to advocate for political ad transparency, as well as ad targeting reforms that promote an active citizenry, regardless of background. This organization has also pushed industry leaders to be more engaged in motivating and activating communities to take part in Census 2020.

Policymakers and companies can help by:

Promoting Civic Engagement Programs to Build an Active and Educated Citizenry. Though it is unfortunate that voting has become a partisan matter, it remains the foundation of our democracy. Tech companies and the government should promote policies and make investments that make it easier for citizens to educate themselves, vote and stay engaged in political and governmental processes. It is important to include the expertise of organizations that specialize in voting and the electoral process and the voices of community members to ensure that all solutions work in practice and meet the needs of vulnerable communities.

Protecting US elections from interference from foreign, non-U.S. based bad actors who seek to undermine our democracy by meddling in our elections through stoking fears and spreading misinformation. Provide disclosure and transparency regarding political advertisements on all digital advertising platforms.

Conclusion

As we navigate the future of the internet, policymakers, corporations, community leaders and other stakeholders should have a laser focus on protecting and growing the successful leaders, companies, organizations and models in communities of color so that our nation, and our global community, can equitably and powerfully reap the benefits of the innovation economy.  A commitment to civil and human rights and economic opportunity for all must be the lens through which policymakers and other stakeholders build policy, products and programs.  Leaders like those uplifted in this report are excellent resources for those seeking to understand what works in practice and should be included in conversations with decision-makers in a way that is accessible and meaningful.  Full Color Future and its partners stand ready to help.

Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC

John Breyault, National Consumers League

Brian Woolfolk and Damara Catlett, Full Color Future

Hoda Howa, Muslim Public Affairs Council

Sean Mickens, Tech Policy Expert

Joe Miller, WashingTECH

Mike Muse, Media Entrepreneur

Francella Ochillo, National Hispanic Media Coalition

Chris Lewis and Daiquiri Ryan, Public Knowledge

Kimberly Tignor, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

With Support From:

Latinos in Media Coalition (LIMA)

Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice