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Mar 13, 2020

Unmasking Racism - Robert Eschmann


A Boston University School of Social Work faculty member since 2017, Rob Eschmann (@robeschmann) is a scholar and teacher whose interests include educational inequality, community violence, racism, social media and youth wellbeing. His research seeks to uncover individual, group and intuitional-level barriers to racial and economic equity—and he pays special attention to the heroic efforts everyday people make to combat those barriers.

For Eschmann, this work is a part of the larger freedom struggle. “The function of racism is to reproduce racial inequality, but in the 21st century the devices of racism are often hidden behind color-neutral laws or friendly interactions,” he notes. “Highlighting the mechanisms of racism, therefore, can demonstrate the continuing significance of race, raise consciousness, and promote and strengthen resistance efforts.”

His recent publications include “Unmasking Racism: Students of Color and Expressions of Racism in Online Spaces,” which appeared in the journal Social Problems in 2019, and “Rethinking Race,” a chapter in the book Education & Society (University of California Press, 2019).

In addition to his appointment at BUSSW, Eschmann serves as an affiliated faculty member in the BU College of Arts & Sciences in the Department of Sociology and the African American Studies Program.


Robert D. Eschmann, Unmasking Racism: Students of Color and Expressions of Racism in Online Spaces (Society for the Study of Social Problems, Oxford University Press, 2019).

News Roundup

Facebook and Twitter halt Russian election interference campaign targeting African Americans

 Facebook and Twitter announced late Thursday that they had taken down multiple accounts and pages that were in the process of executing Russian interference campaigns targeting African Americans. Unlike during the 2016 election when Russia conducted similar operations from inside Russia, these latest intrusions prove Russia’s persistence and evolving sophistication. Russia disguised these latest interference efforts by conducting them from within Africa, namely Nigeria and Ghana, by recruiting operatives there to spread vitriol and suspicion around topics like Black Lives Matter, voting, and police brutality. The Hill reports that Facebook dismantled 49 accounts, 69 pages, and 85 Instagram accounts. Twitter said it removed 71 accounts that purported to be operated from within the United States.  

FTC warns Cardi B for not disclosing paid social media ads

The Hill reports that the Federal Trade Commission has warned Cardi B and 10 other celebrities about not disclosing paid ads for their endorsements of things like supposed weight loss teas on their social media channels.  The FTC didn’t file formal charges against the influencers. However, it has required them to provide a list of actions they plan to take to be more transparent about their sources of funding.

Sen. Kamala Harris calls out Facebook for continued negligence regarding misinformation ahead of the U.S. Census

 So an ad ran on Facebook that appeared to be a link to the 2020 U.S. Census. But when users clicked the link, they were redirected to Trump’s campaign website. Senator Kamala Harris blasted Facebook in a letter last week for failing to stem the tide of misinformation on the platform, even misinformation that violates its own policies.

Nancy Pelosi also blasted the social media behemoth.

Harris pointed specifically to Facebook’s dismissive approach toward recommendations made by civil rights groups to address the effects of Census misinformation on people of color and other marginalized groups who are vulnerable to being undercounted.

Facebook has since removed the ads. But what were the lessons learned back in January when Facebook was forced to remove misleading ads about the coronavirus? Facebook continues to mismanage information that appears on its site and isn’t being held accountable in any sort of lasting and effective way. Kamala Harris noted as much when she said the company’s response to misinformation about the Census will presage how it responds to the 2020 election. Last month the Atlantic predicted that misinformation will be a defining factor of Trump’s re-election campaign. That certainly appears to be the case thus far.

Twitter caught in the middle

Regarding Twitter … First, its CEO Jack Dorsey will stay on for the time being. Prior to the announcement, there had been speculation that activist investment firm Elliot Management would require Dorsey to step down due in part to perceived conflicts of interest because of his role as CEO at both Twitter and Square.

But Twitter was also caught between Republicans and Democrats as it came under pressure to take down or flag a video that Trump retweeted which appeared to depict Joe Biden endorsing Trump’s re-election campaign. Twitter ultimately tagged the video as manipulated. But then a couple of days later, the Trump campaign followed up about an ad posted by the Biden campaign which included footage of Trump calling protesters on both sides of the deadly Charlottesville riot, which included far right protesters opposing the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, as “fine people”. The Biden ad took that quote and made it appear as though the president was only referring to racist protesters.

Cybercriminals and coronavirus

Finally, a new report from cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike finds that cybercriminals, including a group connected to China called PIRATE PANDA, are taking advantage of people’s fear and confusion about the coronavirus. The report notes that just like the coronavirus, the attacks are moving East to West, becoming steadily more sophisticated as they progress. The security breaches are designed to cajole unsuspecting users to open email attachments and take other actions consistent with previous criminal operations that malicious hackers have conducted against unsuspecting users.