After Congressional Nudge, Internet Association Puts Focus on Diversity

The technology trade group recently revealed it would hire a director of diversity and inclusion policy, a move directly influenced by feedback from two Democratic members of Congress.

A letter from two Democratic members of Congress asking for action on issues of racial and gender bias opened up an opportunity for the Internet Association (IA).

The prominent technology group, which represents the interests of some of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, revealed recently that it was adding a director of diversity and inclusion policy to its staff.

The move came after the letter [PDF], sent by Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) of the Congressional Black Caucus, raised questions about diversity issues in relation to social media platforms, particularly in the wake of the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was organized on social media. The letter called on IA to highlight its best practices and policy approaches in regard to these issues.

“Considering the recent announcements from several social media companies on the intrusion and influence of foreign actors on their platforms, we are concerned that racial and gender bias will continue to propagate throughout the internet in advertising, algorithm development, data selection, and other methods unless conscious and concrete steps are taken by the industry,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to the association.

The remarks from Congress clearly had an impact on IA, which took direct action in the wake of the request, something revealed in a response to the lawmakers sent last week.

In his letter to Cleaver and Coleman [PDF], IA President and CEO Michael Beckerman pledged more action would be taken on issues of racial and gender diversity, with the new role taking the lead on the issues at state, local, and federal levels. The director would also work with member companies on diversity issues and ensure that the association’s employment data properly captures the scope of diversity needs.

“It is important that the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints among internet users is well represented in the industry generally and in our policy engagement specifically. The new Director of Diversity and Inclusion Policy will allow us to do this in a more engaged and comprehensive way,” Beckerman wrote.

A job posting for the new role can be found on the association’s website.

Cleaver and Coleman welcomed the efforts of IA on the issue, with Coleman calling it “a first step in the right direction.”

“As we work to combat the intricacies and severity of cybersecurity threats and the manipulation of technical platforms, it is imperative that industry leadership is held accountable for mitigating the social and ethical risks that perpetuate the spread of racial, gender and religious bias,” she said in a news release.

(matejmo/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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