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Discrimination & Corporate Accountability with Rand Fishkin

A Follow Up to a Beyond Words Community Discussion

Beyond Words is a 1000 Cuts community discussion series designed to push company driven commitments around discrimination and injustice beyond words. The discussion is broadcast in front of a live audience, who have an opportunity to submit questions for the guest.

To ensure that the voice of the community is heard, and collective concerns are addressed, each guest has the opportunity to respond to all submitted question after the event. The questions and answers are published here, as a follow up.


The Guest:

Rand Fishkin, Cofounder and CEO: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook



What are some steps you have taken to educate yourself about racism? Are there books, films, podcasts, etc you have read, watched, or listened to? If so, are there some you can recommend?

RAND FISHKIN: I’d feel very sheepish and hesitant to suggest that my education is complete or that the resources I’ve relied on are the best ones or right ones for everyone. Instead, I’d refer to folks who do this work professionally and have studied it in-depth. Some of those include:

How is SparkToro holding itself accountable to the pledges it has made to fight racial injustice and be inclusive?

RAND FISHKIN: The biggest way, certainly, is to make our commitments public and to ask our followers, communities, and customers that we be held publicly accountable. We worked to make our promises specific and measurable, despite our small size. That said, we are always open to suggestions (and solicited+included several from folks during the process of creating our pledge).

SparkToro is run by two white men. How are you going about developing your policies, pledges, etc. so they are inclusive? Is there a group of people of color you ask for advice? Things you research things on the internet?

RAND FISHKIN: Certainly all of those things, yes. The people of color we talk to come from our friends and the online (and IRL) communities to which we belong. And while I do love asking for help and learning from them, I’m also loath to lean too heavily on those folks without compensation (which our current size and pre-profitability level makes challenging). My hope in the future is that we can keep doing informal things like we’ve done and grow our level of investment and formality to include paid consulting in this sphere, too (when applicable).

SparkToro has spoken about how aggregating data from publicly available information on social networks and websites can lead to the collection of discriminatory information and you have committed to never include racial data in your platform. What are examples of some of the discriminatory information that can be aggregated? And how can racial demographic data be used to discriminate?

RAND FISHKIN: Yes! If you aggregate information on where and how to reach a particular group of people based on their race, you can give political campaigns and politically motivated groups the ability to weaponize information against them (as we saw in the 2016 election with Facebook ad targeting, and have seen in the 2020 campaign as well). Banks can use racial data to discriminate in their advertising spend or marketing efforts (intentionally ignoring communities of color for certain types of loans, or marketing predatory ones specifically, for example). Makers of unhealthy consumer products could use this data in discriminatory and harmful ways… The list goes on.

Granted, it’s true that by not providing this data, we also restrict good, ethical, and humane companies and organizations from using racial data in potentially positive ways, but it’s our belief that the risk of harm outweighs the potential good.

SparkToro is actively seeking out people and organizations to mentor, train, and provide SparkToro tools+data access to. Do these organizations consist of people of color? What are you looking for in the people and organizations you are looking to mentor, train, and provide SparkToro tools+data to?

RAND FISHKIN: Yes! For example, we recently sponsored a woman of color’s fee for Shine Bootcamp (which helps women speakers accelerate their speaking opportunities and skills), and another for ROAR Together. People of color, and Black folks aren’t the only under-represented groups we want to help, but we definitely have been focusing our 2020 giving (of time and dollars) in that direction.

The hiring process at many companies is discriminatory, intentionally or not. Discrimination can even appear in how and what questions are asked in an interview. As SparkToro grows how does the company plan to execute hiring people of color as leaders and employees and to ensure you pay your employees equitably?

RAND FISHKIN: There are a lot of challenges with salary transparency (like what orgs like Buffer do), but nonetheless, we think right now it’s the best option to make sure there’s complete equality of pay for folks we hire.

We also believe that in our early hires, we need to tilt the scales away from folks just like us -- it’s way too easy to accumulate diversity debt, and way too hard to dig out from under that once you reach any kind of scale.

That’s why we’re so passionate about making sure our early hires and early team are representative of the company we want to build long-term.

SparkToro has committed to educating themselves and sharing what they have learned with other white people in their network. How do you plan on sharing the information with your network? Will you be having open dialogues with people in your network? Hosting events discussing race? Blogging?

RAND FISHKIN: All of the above! Blogging, certainly, and sharing via social media (which is where a lot of my following/audience currently engages). But I also try to include information, stories, anecdotes, and subtle winks in content for online webinars and (whenever they return) in-person events.

I bring up racial justice issues on podcasts where I’m interviewed, in online discussions, basically anywhere that might be relevant (and even sometimes as a non sequitur when I’m feeling especially passionate).

In addition to racial and gender activism, what are you doing for prospective high school students to give them an alternative to going to college?

RAND FISHKIN: It’s definitely tough for us to make a big dent here, but we can do a few things. First, we can hire without optimizing for or requiring college degrees. Second, we can use consultants who often don’t feel pressured or like it’s essential to have a degree (very few even mention schooling at all). Third, we can amplify and support content, stories, and the very idea that college isn’t essential for everyone, and that other opportunities to learn and advance in careers can be just as good or better.

Finally, we can simultaneously support policies that give college access to far more people (especially those who’ve historically been barred from it by circumstance, background, geography, discrimination, etc) AND support policies that give more opportunities to those who don’t go to college (whether by choice or not). A lot of that falls into the political spectrum where votes and contributions are more meaningful than other forms of activism, but we’ll fight any ways we can here.


Beyond Words is a 1000 Cuts event series, broadcasted in front of a live audience, designed to push company driven commitments around discrimination and injustice beyond words.

If your company is interested in supporting our anti-discrimination movement, please shoot us a message and we'll get things moving.

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