Black Stories Matter (and not just the ones about athletes)

Bias on Yahoo homepage : 7/7/16–7/8/16

Like any news website, Yahoo updates its lead stories throughout the day. The stories it chooses to show are based on an algorithm that factors into account the reader’s previous clicking behavior, what other users are engaging with, as well as general newsworthiness (similar to the Facebook news feed). That is to say, my screenshots may not reflect the homepage that all Yahoo readers saw — but it shouldn’t be far off.

Yahoo homepage, around noon on July 7, 2016

On July 7, when much of the internet was mourning the murder of two more innocent black men at the hands of police, Yahoo’s main story in the morning was Dwyane Wade’s decision to sign with the Chicago Bulls. The story deemed fifth-most important regarded Michael Phelps’s poor acting. Finally, below the so-called ‘fold’ of the page (meaning a reader must scroll to get there) is a story about Alton Sterling’s murder. This incident, only the latest in a years-long chain of recorded extrajudicial killings of minorities by law enforcement, a story bleeding across Twitter and Facebook feeds nationwide, was relegated to a position below that of a ‘viral bikini photo.’

Yahoo homepage, circa 3pm on July 7, 2016

In the afternoon, the lead story switched to the congressional probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Phelps’s bad acting moves up to #3. Tom Hiddleston’s beach photo with Taylor Swift takes slot #4. Alton Sterling’s story has vanished, but a story about the SECOND officer-involved killing of a black person now occupies the fourth ‘below-the-fold’ position. Viral bikini photo holding strong. How a live-streamed video of a police officer shooting a man with a child sitting in the backseat takes a backseat to celebrity PDA simply boggles the mind.

Yahoo homepage, circa 9am on July 8, 2016

Then everything changed. The following day, July 8, a full 60% of prime news real estate, including the lead story, was dedicated to the shooting of a dozen police officers during a protest in Dallas. The narrative switches from minority victims to police victims, and all of a sudden Tom Hiddleston and Michael Phelps no longer seem so important. This is of course not to minimize the tragedy of this horrendous crime. Needless to say, the brazen targeting of policemen by a sniper seeking vengeance is worthy of coverage. But the disparity between the two days is apparent. Recorded murders of black men get pushed below celebrity gossip, while the white lives lost in the fallout get 3/5 (ironic fraction noted) of the prime news space.

It’s not news that the media covers crimes involving white people (see Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s smiling photo and swimming times) differently those involving black people (examples numerous). But this blatant bias in choosing what to run and how prominently to run it is inexcusable. The media must do better.

Yahoo homepage via Private Browsing, July 8, 2016
Curiously, visiting the Yahoo homepage on 7/8/16 from a private browsing window produced this assortment of stories — which I can only assume is for the ostriches and pollyannas of the world. This choice of stories is just as baffling.