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SparkToro's Statement on Racial Injustice

A Message from Rand Fishkin, CEO of SparkToro

Originally published on June 25th, 2020 on the SparkToro Blog

SparkToro is a tiny company of just two people, Casey and Rand. Our small size does not preclude us from taking a role nor from an obligation to make the world around us more fair, equitable, and diverse. We are sickened by the persistent, pernicious racism and white supremacy that infects our country. We are infuriated by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Andres Guardado, and thousands of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people at the hands of the police. We believe in using our voices, our dollars, our time, our software, and our influence to dismantle the insidious racism—overt and covert—that disproportionately harms people of color.

Black lives matter. Full stop.

It is to our everlasting shame that America’s history and its present do not give Black people the equality, equity, or justice owed them. We must fight, together, to undo the injustices wrought by institutionalized white supremacy. There is no middle ground: we are either the architects of change or we are, ourselves, propagators of racism.

SparkToro is in the business of aggregating data and helping people tell stories, solve problems, and identify opportunities in that data. To us, the data and stories about America’s treatment of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and all people of color tell a crystal clear narrative of ongoing discrimination. This discrimination stems from actions with clear, racist intent, and from unintended but equally harmful actions driven by ignorance and a desire to protect white America’s unearned wealth and comfort. Neither are acceptable.

Below is an incomplete starting list of actions we commit to, positions we support, and data that tells the story of why these investments (and many more) are so desperately needed.

We Condemn and Vow to Fight Against Police Brutality and Racist Policing

A comprehensive study published in 2019 found that police across the US make a total of about 10.5 million arrests every single year, aggressively pursuing drug violations (disproportionately affecting Black people) and low-level offenses. (80% of all arrests are for low-level crimes, and only 5% for crimes that involve violence.) More than 10 million arrests is a lot! But all that activity doesn’t signal effectiveness: Only 40% of victims report crimes to the police (which speaks to a lack of trust), and police only solve 25% of those reported crimes. With spending on police skyrocketing over the past six decades, you’d think it would lead to less crime and more effective investigations, but no.” Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

We oppose the militarization of the police. We oppose the manipulative, misplaced power of police unions. We oppose enforcement of minor offenses that encourage street-level harassment. We support elimination of qualified immunity. We support a ban on the flow of military equipment to police. We support the fight to defund the police and re-invest those dollars into services where they are most helpful and effective. We will support politicians and initiatives to make this a reality in both our local communities and nationally.

SparkToro’s pledge: we will not knowingly sell or make our data available to police organizations, ICE, or other law enforcement groups. Additionally, we will vet new customers of SparkToro to filter for organizations that prop up racist institutions, administrations, policies, companies, and politicians (e.g. Anduril Industries, Palantir Technologies, 8chan/8kun, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, etc.). If we find that groups like these are using SparkToro data or services through third parties (such as agencies/consultants), we will immediately terminate these relationships and refund their payments.

We Unequivocally Support Policies that Close Racist Wealth & Opportunity Gaps

“…black women are three to four times as likely as white women to die in childbirth, in part because of a lack of access to quality health care; black children are more likely to attend underresourced schools, thanks to a reliance on local property taxes for funding; black voters are four times as likely as white voters to report difficulties voting or engaging in politics than their white counterparts, in part because of laws that even today are designed to keep them for exercising their basic democratic rights; millions more have been disenfranchised because of felony convictions; hurricane flooding has been shown to hit black neighborhoods disproportionately.”

“As of 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, you would have to combine the net worth of 11.5 black households to get the net worth of a typical white U.S. household.”

“Just after the federal government decided that black people were undeserving of restitution, it began bestowing millions of acres in the West to white Americans under the Homestead Act… From 1868 to 1934, the federal government gave away 246 million acres in 160-acre tracts, nearly 10 percent of all the land in the nation, to more than 1.5 million white families, native-born and foreign. As Merritt points out, some 46 million American adults today, nearly 20 percent of all American adults, descend from those homesteaders.”

“You cannot close a racial wealth gap without transferring wealth to the people who have the gap. So cash payments to me have to be central to any program.” Nikole Hannah-Jones

Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Since 1968, the gap in wealth between Black and white Americans has grown, yet most Americans incorrectly believe it has lessened. We commit to joining the fight to change America’s racist decisions that enshrine white wealth while denying Black opportunity. That includes supporting reparations to Black Americans, demanding an official apology from the federal government (which, shamefully, has still never been issued), lobbying for an overhaul of systemically racist institutions like school funding based on property taxes, combating gerrymandered geographies that produce racially-biased elections, eliminating racist lending policies from banks, ending racially biased investment processes from venture capitalists, and hundreds more…..

These fixes will be difficult, take time, and face resistance, so we must commit to long-term change, to a fight that will almost certainly last longer than our lives, and to allyship that never grows weary or resorts to selfish comfort over meaningful support. 

SparkToro’s pledge: We will support the positions and changes above with direct donations of funds, with our votes, and through advocacy on our personal networks and professional channels (including this blog). This is, admittedly, an area in which our commitments today are underwhelming vs. the scale of the problems, and so we promise to actively seek out additional ways to make faster, better progress and update this document and this pledge when we do.

We will make every effort to bias our own use of financial services, including banks, credit unions, credit cards, and payment processing services to institutions that are actively working on their own initiatives to combat racism. We will not use financial services from major providers with well-documented issues like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Chase.

Further, we recognize that our software’s data, because it aggregates publicly available information from social networks and websites, represents a world filled with discrimination. In order to limit the ways this can be used, we commit to never include racial demographic data in our platform publicly or privately, as this filtering could be used in discriminatory ways beyond our control. As our tools evolve, we will stay wary of ways our products could be used to further existing racist structures or expose new vectors for discrimination, and shut them down.

We Pledge to Include, Amplify and Celebrate Voices of Color

“The word “Black” represents an extremely diverse group of people, spanning a wide geographical area and a broad range of religious beliefs, ethnicities and languages. However, there seems to always be a flawed portrayal of our community in society, turning what should be a beautiful mosaic into a uniform canvas. This monotonous depiction of the Black community often presents Black people in a negative light. This affects not only how others in society perceive us but also affects how we view ourselves.

Effecting positive representations of Black people in society will require our collective efforts. But how do we change a narrative that seems so firmly rooted? We can start by including more role models for Black people in our society. These can be mentors and other Black  professionals in the community, not just rappers and basketball players on the big screen. We can also increase representation by supporting Black-owned businesses and Black politicians.” Temitope Akintola and Shadia Adekunte

“In a landmark study, developmental psychologist Phyllis Katz, founder of the Institute for Research on Social Problems in Colorado, regularly observed more than 200 children, half black and half white, from the time they were 6 months old until they were nearly 6 years old. “I think it is fair to say that at no point in the study did the children exhibit the Rousseau type of colorblindness that many adults expect,” Katz wrote in a 2003 summary in American Psychologist. When 3-year-olds were shown photos of children of different races and asked to choose whom they might like to be friends with, one-third of the black kids chose only photos of other black kids, but 86 percent of the white kids only chose photos of other white kids.” Melinda Wenner Moyer

We want to be conscientious about performative allyship and displays that don’t have meaningful impacts. But we’re also believers in the power of visible symbols, inclusion, public gestures, and behavior modelling. We have heard from friends, writers, and notable figures in communities of color that representation matters. As such, we’re making Juneteenth an official, paid company holiday, and will, ourselves, use the holiday to listen, learn from, and celebrate Black voices.

When we, ourselves, cite sources, amplify messages, solicit content and contributions, they must come from a similarly diverse group. The SparkToro blog is currently still authored only by Rand, but if/when this changes, it cannot be an overwhelmingly white publication.

SparkToro’s pledge: We commit to pushing professional conferences, events, and content sources of all kinds in our field to include more voices of color, and specifically more Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people here in the United States. Industry roundups, webinars, roundtables, panels, speaker lineups—in the web marketing world, these are tragically, overwhelmingly white. We will help change that through actions public and private, including withholding our contributions to these until/unless people of color have significant representation.

We are also actively seeking out people and organizations to mentor, train, and provide SparkToro tool+data access to, and will update this document as we do.

We Pledge to Create Opportunity Through Hiring, Spending, & Investing

“White men in America are 31 percent of the population, but they hold 65 percent of all elected positions. They’re half of all federal judges. And they’re 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives.” Shannon Watts

We are not wealthy, and our company does not have the resources to pledge meaningful dollars, start significant programs, or make grand donations. We will not let the excuse of our small size preclude us from making an effort.

SparkToro’s Pledge: We commit to hiring people of color as leadership and employees (should our team, hopefully, one day grow), and to always paying equitably. We will not be satisfied with a company of people that does not represent the diversity of voices we value in our nation, our community, and our customers. Moreover, employment in our ranks is not enough—we also commit to spending (when we have budget and need) with contractors, consultants, and suppliers owned and staffed by people of color. We make this same commitment for any outside investments SparkToro ever does (M&A, funding other companies, etc).

We Will Continue Our Own Educations and Educate Others

“Fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent).” Robert P. Jones

Race is a topic that makes many white people uncomfortable. We believe that, despite discomfort, we must lean into conversations about race personally, among our friends and family, and publicly, in our professional and social networks. That means listening to people of color, reading their work, acknowledging their experiences, believing their stories, having their backs, defending their positions, and learning from them.

It also means sharing our education with other white folks in our networks, even when those conversations are hard and uncomfortable. We pledge to educate not only ourselves, but to share what we learn in public and private conversations with our peers who are willing to listen (and probably some who aren’t).

We Know We Will Always Have Work to Do

Today, we are two flawed founders on a journey of putting in the work we believe can take us toward a place of greater equality. We commit to continuing the journey. We expect to be held accountable, to receive no praise for doing this work, and to be called out when we stumble or fail. And we promise to get back up, to listen with humility, and to do better next time.


Originally Posted on June 25th, 2020 on the SparkToro Blog


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