Author Dashka Slater shares lessons learned from Albany High School social media firestorm

left to right: Dashka Slater, Valentina Prieto Black, Hailey Marshburn, Ellen Lee

There are no easy answers when it comes to navigating the complicated intersection of social media, race, and humor.  

But at a fireside chat this month, Dashka Slater, the bestselling author of “Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed, offered some of the lessons learned after an Albany High School student started a racist Instagram account in an attempt to look funny and cool to his friends. The incident quickly escalated, sparking a protest, multiple lawsuits, and fights.    

For one, Slater said, it helps to start having conversations about race — including uncomfortable ones. The conversations shouldn’t happen just once. Instead, it should be like exercising a muscle, something that happens regularly. 

It’s also important to be aware of how edgy, offensive racial humor is being spread on the internet: many of the memes, videos, and social media posts originate from alt-right groups. 

Slater also outlined the practice of Restorative Justice and how a community can come together to heal after such an incident, such as providing a space where perpetrators can acknowledge the harm they caused and make amends. 

Some 200 parents, students, teachers, staff, and community members filled Alan Harvey Theater for the fireside chat with Slater, who is also the author of The 57 BusEscargot, and The Book of Stolen Time

The event was sponsored by the Piedmont Education Foundation (PEF)Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign (PREC), and Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC). 

Piedmont High School seniors Valentina Prieto Black and Hailey Marshburn, along with Ellen Lee, PADC president, led the evening’s conversation. Slater also answered several audience questions. 

PREC and PADC plan to host a book club to discuss Accountable. Please message if you’re interested in joining. 

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