For close to a decade, the innovative social media and internet campaign that helped propel Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to the presidency has been closely examined and praised. But ironically, the same online commenting and social media platforms were used by critics to target the first black American President with blatant racism, bigotry and stereotyping — viciously attacking Obama and his family on a daily basis.
Two early aspects of the online assault against Obama were the “birtherism” allegations that questioned whether Obama was a natural-born U.S. citizen, and unfounded claims that he is Muslim.
A small sampling of the Obama loathing from online commenters included:
- Calling him a “boy”
- Accusations that one of his administration’s goals was to give blacks and Muslims a higher status than white Americans
- Accusations that his administration planned to hire “lazy” black teachers to educate white children
- Calling First Lady Michelle Obama “un-American” and apelike
- Repeatedly referring to Obama as the “anti-Christ”
Michelle Obama was the target of some vicious — and blatantly racist — online attacks.
(Forsyth County News)
Documentarian and media consultant Eric Tait Jr. sees racism as an underlying and sometimes overt reason for the attacks on Obama.
“Unquestionably, Barack Obama (and Michelle) were treated highly unfairly about their race by online commenters,” he said.
What’s most unfortunate about this is the fact that much of the unfair online comments were triggered by racist news, feature stories, even editorial cartoons published in mainstream print and magazine outlets, as well as broadcast media,” said Tait, adding, “Just the birther, Muslim-not-Christian issues fueled eight years of nonstop negative comments.”
The unprecedented disrespect of Obama — and the office he held — was one catalyst for my book, “Rants & Retorts: How Bigots Got a Monopoly on Commenting About News Online” (CreateSpace, 2016), which examines the psychosocial causes of racist and negative online commenting about African-Americans.
The book’s “Fear of a Black President: 2008 Campaign, Election and 2012 Reelection Aftermath” chapter documents the explosion of hate speech against Obama by online commenters who were emboldened by hatred and, in some cases, fueled by innate fears, that a person of color was America’s head of state.
Social media not only added to the volume of online racist comments against Obama, but it increasingly became an almost instantaneous method to project and share racism.
“The ability to share online comments via Twitter, Facebook, etc. has been vastly enhanced since President Obama’s election in 2008,” said veteran technology journalist Robert Anthony. “What used to take a slow cut-and-paste procedure now requires just a click or two of a “share” button. This has worked both ways: It became easier to call out and share racist comments, whether you wanted to attack them or spread them further,” he said.
In “Rants & Retorts,” Michael Days, editor at the Philadelphia Daily News and author of “Obama’s Legacy: What He Accomplished As President” (Center Street Publishing, 2016), said news organizations should be encouraging people to engage in a dialogue about controversial issues through online comments.