Twitter is a cesspool for racism. But racist language on the platform isn’t always overt. Bigots can express racist intentions without using obvious signifiers like slurs. Coded racism can be the most damaging of all, and needs to be highlighted to understand the full scope of the problem.
Racism WatchDog is on the job.
@RacismDog is a Twitter account with a simple mission: barking, borking and woofing at racists on Twitter. Its founders B and G (we agreed to withhold their names to protect their privacy) created the account in November 2017 to highlight the social media platform’s rampant racism.
“Even though this racism is online, people need to know that it exists,” G says. “It has real world implications.”
B initially approached G with the idea after following YouTubers that highlighted racist tweets. Twitter racism is nothing new, but through those screenshots and replies, B noticed the alarming frequency and felt the need to call it out. And he figured a little canine levity could be even more impactful.
“I thought it was hilarious,” G says. “Racists usually exist in their own bubble, and I thought it could be really effective in popping that bubble and exposing these people.”
The account also focuses on subtextual racism. By using coded language and so-called “dog-whistle” phrases, racists can communicate their hatred of minorities and still maintain the appearance of decorum.
“A lot of times these tweets aren’t explicitly racist,” B says. “Sometimes it may be more subversive, like if there’s a rant about undocumented immigrants, there’s always this racial coding behind what they’re saying.”
Racism WatchDog began regular activity in April, mostly quote-tweeting racist replies and the occasional bigoted pundit. On May 18, the pair quoted an old Ben Shapiro tweet and let the Twitterverse do the rest.
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF https://t.co/RCTDetGsO5
— Racism Watchdog (@RacismDog) May 19, 2018
The Shapiro bark-out was the account’s first viral tweet. Followers poured in by the thousands. Celebrities, comedians, journalists and average Twitter users revelled over the simplicity and power of the concept. Other famous canine accounts showed their support. As it turns out, everyone loves a dog.
“A dog made the most sense,” G says. “It’s an animal that can watch for and call out bad things, so that imagery lines up.”
As @RacismDog closes in on half-a-million followers, their formula remains the same. They focus mostly on popular commentators like Shapiro who regularly employ coded language when discussing racial, religious or social issues. It’s spawned more than a few imitation accounts, as well as a new hashtag campaign to get the account verified, #VerifyRacismDog.
“If it’s just a person with no followers tweeting the n-word, that’s not really something worth featuring,” B says. “But if it’s a person with 10,000 followers or a noticeable fan base behind them, that’s going to get a lot of attention and it’s worthy replying to it.”
There are simply too many racist tweets on the platform to highlight them all. B and G believe over-tweeting would dilute @RacismDog’s effectiveness, so they limit their activity to around five to ten tweets per day.
It’s rare for people quoted or screenshotted to complain, but when they do, it’s comedic gold. After the account borked at Ben Garrison, the Trump-loving cartoonist decided to hit back. But he found that it’s impossible to look dignified arguing with a dog.
— Racism Watchdog (@RacismDog) May 29, 2018
The dog persona provides both comedic and argumentative relief. @RacismDog doesn’t reply to tweets like Garrison’s, but the account’s followers do. In the replies of any given post, you can find people explaining the highlighted tweet’s coded language or dog-whistling to skeptics. B and G aren’t sure if they’re changing minds, but agree that follower explanations only add value to the account’s mission.
“On the whole, I’d say it serves up some good discussions about what makes something racist versus not,” G says. “Our followers do a really good job explaining that to people.”
Though the response has been overwhelmingly positive, B and G have received their share of negative feedback and threats. The pair was diligent about maintaining their privacy and anonymity around the account. Nothing’s gotten to them yet, but they admit scrolling through Twitter’s vast racism on a daily basis does take its toll.
“Sorting through all this racism, seeing our DMs, it does get disheartening,” G says. “There are just times when you have to log off and say, ‘I can’t look at that anymore.’”
That ugliness is part of the reason they’re using their newfound Twitter fame to raise awareness. Their new website allows followers to give a “treat”—a donation that can be split between them and the Southern Poverty Law Center, renowned for its work in civil rights and identifying hate groups.
“We want to use our platform for good,” G says. “Other than just barking at racists.”