Too often, Black creators on social media create a viral dance, design a creative piece of clothing or conceive some other viral trend but are not the ones profiting or receiving acclaim for their work. It has led Black content creators on social media to go on strike because white creators were getting the credit and profits.
In response to the growing frustration of Black content creators, Instagram introduced a special tag for influencers and business accounts that allow the creators to get credit for their creations on the platform.
The creators of the tag are Alexis Michelle Adjei and Alexandra Zaoui, who are both data analysts, though Cameryn Boyd, is also an engineer.
The two work for Meta (formerly known as Facebook), the parent company of Instagram, who noticed a problem in their industry and collaborated to help and curve the disparity in profits that social media influencers are making.
Zaoui said, “We were inspired by the Recording Academy’s campaign titled “I Support Everyone Behind the Record” and the brave songwriters who came together to demand their fair share of credit and compensation (in the form of publishing rights) by signing “The Pact.” We wanted to see more songwriters, producers, album artwork makers, and other music creators start profiting from the fandom that artists have historically been the only recipients of.”
The Root got the chance to speak with Adjei and Boyd on what went into creating the enhanced tags, the importance of being Black in tech and what their favorite social media trend is.
The Root: What led to you working at Meta?
Cameryn: I went to Spelman College and I came in as a freshman undecided. It was while talking to the Computer Science professor at the majors and minors fair that first got me interested in CS.
So I majored in computer science and after my freshman year, I got an internship at what was then Facebook [Meta] University and that’s when I first got a real look into what it would look like working in the industry and building mobile applications. From there, I got a return offer, so I returned the next summer to Seattle to work on a team on one of Meta’s products. Then I got another return offer and worked in New York and trained for Instagram which led to a full-time offer in August 2020.
Alexis: I went to Stanford University, and I studied international relations and economics. Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley, so I felt the Holy Spirit of entrepreneurialism and technology really permeate a lot of my interest. Through all the internships I took through college, I think something that I was looking for was the ability to make a quick impact and impact that felt tangible. So that’s when one of my best friends suggested, “If you want to have an impact that feels tangible, and you can see it, you should try tech.” So I also experimented with tech by doing the Meta university program in the operation segment.
I got a return offer for the data analytics role in August 2020 after I graduated from Stanford and started full-time, I was attached to the idea of impacting things that I use every day and people I care about also use every day.
TR: Was there a particular trend or incident that sparked the idea to create this special tag? Or is this something that was always in the back of your mind as something that needs to be addressed?
Alexis: We were seeing designers create a new runway trend and then someone else big would pick it up. There is a myriad of instances to point to, especially in 2020, when we saw creators during the pandemic were relying on the internet as a means to connect; we saw creators really take center focus, but that didn’t look like all creators. The overall environment was telling.
Cameryn: Cultural appropriation is as old as time, so this is something that’s historically always had and just permeated in the present day and it just looks different now. So I think that’s something we saw being in tech, it’s just taken a new form. Now it’s viral trends and dances that creators of color are making.
TR: When was this idea created? Was it during your time at Meta University or somewhere else?
Cameryn: Alexis and I worked on a team with our third co-creator and founder Alexandria Zaoui. They came to me because we were friends before and said, “Hey, there’s this Black futures hackathon that Meta is putting on. So do you want to join our team?” That’s the first time that we came together, and we were charged with coming up with growth opportunities for Black users. We wanted to look at Instagram because we know that’s what a lot of Black creators are on. When we started looking at the problems, we wanted to address how Black creators’ content was being widely distributed, but they weren’t getting the attribution and they weren’t monetizing. I think that’s something that we were looking at is how do we get these creators from attribution to distribution and then to these growth and monetization opportunities.
The Root: What is the Black Futures Hackathon?
Alexis: The Black Futures Hackathon is during Black History Month and kicked off in February 2021. It allows all Meta employees, regardless of whether they have a technical role or not, to participate. Anyone with an idea or a problem can come together and form a team to either build out the product completely or just start with a proof of concept and idea. A hackathon used to happen in person where people would code and ideate into the night. The idea is you get a very short period of time, usually 72 hours, and you just take a problem and try outlining and designing a fix so it can be built into either a campaign or a product. So it’s like “hacking” a problem.
The Root: Were there any other ideas that were discussed to help Black creators on social media that did not come to fruition? Are there some you are working on right now?
Cameryn: One thing we were trying to solve is how do we create a space on Instagram for creators in a way that benefits them. Many creators have their businesses on this platform and a lot of our ideas came from; how do we create tools for them? Or how do we allow them to get to those growth opportunities more? That’s something that we thought a lot about in the hackathon and are still thinking about now. How do we get dollars and pockets at the end of the day? How do we ensure that Black creators are getting the same opportunities as some of their contemporaries? Getting those career-changing opportunities that lead to brand deals and the views that lead to the monetary gains.
The enhanced tag was the most full-fledged idea that we had and that’s one we thought solved a basic need. Distribution helps with monetization. But at the end of the day, if these viewers don’t know that these Black creators are the ones who created the content, then they can’t get to that next step. So while we definitely explored monetization opportunities, this product was step one.
TR: What can normal, everyday Instagram users do to ensure that Black creators receive more credit and prominence?
Alexis: One of our principal ideas while making this feature is that it becomes so easy, there’s no excuse not to credit, the simple click of a button. I think to enforce that, it does require a little bit of accountability. So I think as an everyday user, if you see a post where you’re like, “Hey, this choreography originated from this person,” you can retroactively add these enhanced tags to a post. That’s something that everyday users can use respectfully and call out in the comments like, “Hey there’s an enhanced tag feature, noticed that missing from your post,” here’s an opportunity to credit some of the people who contributed to this work in an easy way.
Cameryn: I think past crediting; highlighting, sharing and celebrating creators, in general, is important. DM your friend, if you see something cool, post it to your story, or tell someone about it, tell them to follow them, that’s what we want for these underrepresented creators, to grow their following. So if we continue to do that in our community, it will go a long way.
TR: Can you speak to the importance of having people of color in positions like yours so they can help with representation and other racial disparities in tech?
Alexis: There’s a need for more Black and brown minds in the industry. Part of why that is needed is that in our quest to get people on board, not everyone initially understood why attribution was important. Sometimes it can get simplified to, “Okay, I do a viral dance and I don’t add credit, like, what does that really mean?” But being able to like speak on, “well, that really means that x person’s getting a brand deal and someone else is getting left behind” and being able to offer that education that comes from lived experience. I think that builds a lot of empathy between the people that we’re working with, and it creates growth for education.
Cameryn: There can be a lot of pressure being the only one in the room. I can be in a room where’s there nobody like me in here and they expect me not to do well. If and when you do, then it can feel like an affirmation of what other people believe, even if they’re not saying that to you. You also feel like you represent all other Black women. There can be a lot of personal pressure when you’re the only one but at the same time, you also have a very unique opportunity to bring your experience and your voice and try to fight that battle and speak up anyway and have that different perspective. This product is an example of us doing that.
TR: Has there been a favorite Instagram trend of yours in the last couple of years?
Alexis: I like the ‘What I do in a day’ trend on [Instagram] Reels. A lot of them are based in New York and I’m like “I want to go do this and go to this restaurant.”
Cameryn: During the pandemic, I was very much into the dances. But now as I’m personally trying to encourage myself to cook more, I think all of the food trends are the ones that are all over my explore pages.