Jessica Guynn, USATODAY12:01 a.m. EDT July 17, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO — Civil rights activists are turning up pressure on Twitter to publicly release the gender and ethnic breakdown of its flock of employees. And they are doing it by waging an attention-grabbing campaign on Twitter.
Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the civil rights organization ColorofChange.org say they will use Twitter as a bullhorn to call on the San Francisco company to share demographic information about its work force and to host a public forum on how it plans to increase the diversity of its staff.
At a session on Twitter at the Netroots Nation annual political convention in Detroit on Friday, activists will ask people to "tweet out" to Twitter. ColorOfChange is also asking its 1 million members to sign an online petition to add their voices to the campaign.
"We come not to disrupt but to fulfill the promise of social media," Jackson said in an interview this week.
Jackson has succeeded in getting other major Internet companies —Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo — to release reports that show what many have long suspected: the technology industry is overwhelming male, white and Asian.
But Twitter has remained silent, he said.
A Twitter spokesman said Wednesday that the company had nothing to announce "at this time."
"It is ironic that Twitter is still resisting releasing this information," Jackson said. "We are over-indexed on Twitter as users and we are under-indexed as employees."
Blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans account for 41% of U.S. users, making Twitter more racially diverse than any other social network including Facebook.
As a publicly traded company, Twitter has capitalized on the diverse bounty of its users to attract advertising from major brands that want to target blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans. Late last year, the San Francisco company hired a multicultural marketing veteran to spearhead the effort.
Twitter is especially popular among blacks. More than a quarter of black Internet users in the U.S. are on Twitter, a rate higher than other ethnic groups, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.
"Black Twitter" — the flow of conversation about issues that matter to this online community — has become a cultural force capable of influencing the national dialogue and the course of events.
It was credited with scuttling a book deal for a juror in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
"Black Twitter" also turned up the heat on celebrity cook Paula Deen, whose racial slurs inspired the #paulasbestdishes hashtag featuring recipes such as "Massa-Roni and Cheese" and "Don't Know Nothin' Bout Birthin No Baby Carrots."
Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, says Twitter has an obligation to be "transparent and clear with the community that has helped them grow."
"We are not going to stand by and be silent while Twitter continues to benefit and grow off the creativity, the ideas and the engagement from our community while we are being shut out from the economic growth and opportunities that come with that," Robinson said.
This is not the first time Twitter has taken fire on its lack of diversity.
Of its 11 senior executives, nine are white men. Only one woman sits on the company's board.
Twitter added former publishing executive Marjorie Scardino to the all-male board last December after the absence of women became a heated issue during the company's initial public offering.
For years Silicon Valley companies resisted sharing their demographics with the public. But in May Google broke ranks, putting pressure on other companies.
Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo have since released information on the ethnic and gender makeup of staffers and Apple and Pandora have both said they plan to release information.
Jackson says pushing Twitter and other technology companies to be more open about the ethnic and gender makeup of their work force is just the first phase of his effort.
Next Jackson said he will be looking to technology companies to set goals and timetables for hiring more people of color.
"Releasing this data is just the beginning of our quest for equality," Jackson said.