A Facebook page is stirring up an online debate about racism in Latin America. Skin-o-Meter Memes: la página clasista has gained more than half a million followers since it was created in January by publishing memes that show a color pallette with different skin tones going from light to dark. The memes include phrases and images that make fun of people with darker skin while glorifying those with lighter skin.
Skin-o-Meter’s followers have mixed feelings about the page’s purpose. Some comments call for the page to be shut down, while others argue that it’s simply about trolling people who claim to be more sophisticated than others.
The creator of the page, who talked to us under the condition of anonymity, describes himself as a light-skinned Hispanic who moved to the United States with his family at the age of 15. “[The purpose of the meme] is to expose the racism and classism that are embedded in Latin American society,” he told Fusion en español in a Skype interview.
He insists that the content he publishes isn’t racist, but rather meant to push people to reflect on the prejudices that Latin Americans develop from an early age.
The memes, according to the creator, convey the intersection of racism and classism in Latin America, where people tend to associate darker skin with poverty, bad manners, and being less attractive.
After some community members reported the page, Facebook began deleting some of its content. The social network’s community managers also warned the Skin-o-Meter administrator that his page could be shut down. However, the young admin told me he was able to work his way around offensive content policies by using images and concepts that the Facebook’s “bots” could not contextualize and process.
He also notes that the page is first and foremost a joke. “Lots of people take the memes so personally that they end up exposing the classism that they hold within themselves,” he told me. That those people reporting the page so vehemently object to the stereotypes about darker skin tones reinforces the classist structure being called out by the memes, he says.
Ruchika Budhraja, a Facebook community team member, told me Skin-o-Meter can be categorized as a satire or humor page. The company looked into the reports and concluded that the page doesn’t violate the website’s community guidelines, she says.
However, some Facebook users have continued to report the memes.
Hector Meza, who has reported the page, claims Facebook’s discrimination and hate speech policies have an inherent contradiction. He told me the American company doesn’t understand hate speech in a Latin American context. Meza says Facebook would immediately take down the page if it were in English and published the same racist insults in an American context.
Budhraja says the platform is working to better understand historical contexts when it comes to discrimination in different countries. She also says Facebook’s community operations team, which is in charge of reviewing hate speech reports, continues to expand around the world and will hire more than 3,000 new staffers, which will help to avoid imposing an American perspective of what is and isn’t offensive, discriminatory, and flat-out racist.
However, Skin-O-Meter is one of many pages on the internet that reinforce the colonial complex in Latin America and other parts of the world where one’s skin tone supposedly indicates a person’s socioeconomic status.
“There is no space that is not hierarchical and does not express the hierarchies and social distinctions,” wrote sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in regards to discrimination in Mexico and Latin America.
Skin-O-Meter is another example of how these concepts are being reinforced on the internet. Funny or not, racism is now spreading digitally.
This article was originally published on Fusion en Espanol.