“We ‘said her name’ and got zucked”: Black Women Calling-out of Digital Platforms

It’s like we are out of place. Like we are taking up too much space. Our concerns and voices are never heard. But we show up and show out all the time… We’re like space invaders, until some work needs to be done. Then they call us.

Raneisha*

This poignant, concise, and powerful comment was made after a Rekia Boyd rally organized by activists in New York City, late spring of 2015. Raneisha posted this Facebook message while remarking on how few people showed up to the rally, a stark contrast to the Freddie Gray and Eric Garner rallies in the same city previously. In this small statement she uttered a common refrain that Black women report about their experiences within social movements of being ignored, overworked, and undervalued. Later in that same Facebook post, Raniesha commented that her post might get removed for being too vocal and critical of  racism and sexism. This punitive practice of getting banned or having a post removed by Facebook is known as getting “zucked.”

In our essay, we explore the concept of getting “zucked” as part of larger trends within digital platforms that punish Black women online for expressing their distress at the inequalities they experience. According to Urban Dictionary user Saikh, getting zucked is when your expression is sucked out of you by Mark Zuckerberg’s mysterious Facebook community standards. 

The play on words is to indicate the parallel of getting ‘fucked’ by Zuckerberg. While this rhetoric certainly has gendered and homophobic undertones, it also reflects rape culture in terms of the unwanted intrusion by an outside entity.

Urban Dictionary user Raiayyyyyy defines it as, “we got fucked by zuck”. This process, as perceived by Black women, is one where the existing policies on digital spaces are not objective or race-neutral but instead continue a practice of centering whiteness as the normal operating system. Digital platforms have become places that  police, surveil, and criminalize Black women’s practices around micromobilizing.

Black women connect with one another and voice their concerns and demands for justice in digital spaces.  Twitter can function as a sanctuary or safe space to engage with others outside of a traditional face-to-face interaction. The use of hashtags opens a space for issues to be acknowledged and discussed without judgment, which allows for voices in the margins to be heard and to type back about erasure of Black female narratives. Through digital interactions, Black women as invisible victims of state and/or personal violence can be heard.  Black women center Blackness in their digital practices to show their refusal to be erased or ignored.

While getting “zucked” might seem like an innocent response to violation of terms of service, Black women suggest that this practice disparately targets them for speaking back to racist and sexist incidents on and offline. Black women are more likely to get “zucked” when they focus on police violence and the intersection of compounding harms. There is a correlation between increased content using the #SayHerName hashtag and  Facebook’s disciplining of Black women’s presence. In our essay, we show how Black women are punished within digital platforms as the latest iteration of cultural policing  that contributes to the subjugation of Black women online and off.

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray (@KishonnaGray) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She is also a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She also previously served as a MLK Scholar and Visiting Professor in Women and Gender Studies and Comparative Media Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Gray is an interdisciplinary, intersectional, digital media scholar whose areas of research include identity, performance and online environments, embodied deviance, cultural production, video games, and Black Cyberfeminism.

Krysten Stein (she/her/hers) (@stein_krysten) is a first-generation, interdisciplinary Ph.D. student studying Communication and Media with concentrations in Gender and Women’s Studies and Black Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She investigates how television, digital media, and popular culture are intertwined with systems of power and marginalized identities. Rooted in critical/cultural studies, utilizing an intersectional feminist lens, her writing and research focuses on media industries, political economy, cultural production and representation.