Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Searching For Race In Social Media - US Government Program Targets Hispanics

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 25, 2012

Dana Oshiro, publishing analyst at ad network NetShelter, poses an interesting question: "how do you determine race and ethnicity online? "

This question arose from her recent attendance at the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in San Jose, CA where plans were discussed on how to use social media and online marketing to target the Hispanic population. The goal is to offer programs that will raise the number of Hispanic students in colleges by 4.5 million over the next ten years.

The question which officials didn’t ask, but that I find fascinating is this — If you’re targeting Latinos for educational programs, how do you determine race and ethnicity online? HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY RACIALIZED PEOPLE ONLINE?

...I recognize how controversial this can be and how the Fourth Amendment is meant to protect us from race-related profiling. But honestly, I’ve thought about this for myself for a while and wondered about a machine-readable way to identify my own Asian-ness.


She offers some suggestions:

The White House Initiative has already power mapped a list of 33 key communities for Latin Americans. I ironically just wrote a post about how you can disguise your IP address and location, but one controversial way I know that the Department of Education could tailor its services to Latinos is to target the IPs of the power mapped communities.

By looking at these community IPs, the government could:

1. Find common referring organic search terms (and design content to those terms to increase relevance and usefulness);

2. Find common referring sites and social networks and do outreach through these external tools in order to increase distribution around grant program access etc.;

3. And finally, create culturally appropriate content and serve it.


Sound advice. You can read more here: Villagers with Pitchforks : White House Action Summit: Machine-Readable Culture?

I would also encourage the use of advertising agencies and ad networks that specialize in the Hispanic market, they'll know where and how to reach people, after all it's the fastest growing US market so there's tons of commercial interest and data. However, the digital divide is wide in Hispanic communities so online social media campaigns will be severely limited in their influence.

It's interesting to see US policy initiatives are still race-based when we know there is no such thing as race -- a long discredited concept and one that was designed to divide society. But there is a division in economic classes. If the government targeted its educational programs at the poor and lowest earning communities, it would reach a lot of Hispanics, and many others who share in the struggle to succeed.

I remember hearing an 18 year old student on the radio a few years ago, a recent immigrant from Cuba, saying he loved the opportunities his family has in the US, but he questioned the myth of the US melting pot. He said, "The pot is on the stove but the burners aren't lit."

I have to agree. But at least the pot is on the stove, the intent is a good one. So how do we light the burners? The government's targeting of Hispanics, or any other "ethnic" group, it would seem to me, perpetuates a segregated view of the nation, it's divisive rather than inclusive.

Targeting people based on their economic class would be far more effective because of the benefits of scale, and it would attain the same goals. Plus, we already have plenty of government data about where those people are, and how to reach them. I understand the need to market the government's educational programs in several languages but I fail to understand its insistent focus on race rather than class.


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