Here’s an interesting question: to what extent is digital blackface — the frequent embodiment of black culture through the use of online GIFs — the fault of GIF databases like GIPHY? If we’re being honest, the average person who, say, wants to tweet a reaction GIF is not going to take the time to make his or her own. The process can be somewhat cumbersome, and it takes time and effort to make your own GIF. Instead, search bases like GIPHY allow someone to filter through a variety of GIFs with a key search word. Typing in “reaction” on GIPHY brings up interesting results.
5 of the first 12 search results to the keyword “reaction” on GIPHY brings about GIFs featuring black people. On a further note, one of Twitter’s main categories (“Dance”) under popular GIFs displays quite a few instances of black people dancing as suggested GIFs. In this case, the user doesn’t even have to search for these GIFS; they’re displayed right there as suggestions.
The prominent use of black people in “reaction” GIFs and “dance” GIFs on Twitter seem to be an issue, but this development begs the question as to how much of it is the user’s fault? If we’re presented with a library of GIFs from the keyword “reaction,” and a large portion of those GIFs are of black people, doesn’t it seem more likely that we’ll ultimately choose one of those “black people GIFs” to formulate the reaction that we want? It seems that these popular platforms like GIPHY are more to blame, as they’re the ones that are ultimately linking GIFs of black people with stereotyping search terms. In order to address this issue, it’s probably worth looking at how these databases choose to display these GIFs; we need to look at why GIFs of black people come up more frequently when we’re looking for reaction GIFs.