Three black girls from D.C. advanced to the finals of a NASA competition, but racist trolls online attempted to derail their chances.
Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell are three students at a high school in D.C. who just wanted to find a way to remove lead from drinking water in schools, and their efforts earned them recognition in a competition by NASA. But once racist trolls online heard about their success, they began to do everything in their power to bring them down.
The girls were competing in NASA’s Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge (OPSPARC), and people on websites like 4chan, long known as being a hotbed of racism and hate, decided to target them for a hacking campaing in order to drive down their changes of winning. They argued that the system they had created was not that good and they were only being advanced to the finals due to their race.
Fortunately, NASA caught wind of their efforts and shut down voting when they spotted irregularities. Instead, officials will choose the winners themselves at a later date. There was a tremendous outpouring of support for the girls, including from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who awarded $4,000 to the girls.
“To celebrate their hard work, I am proud to present Mikayla, India, and Bria with a $4,000 grant toward their future innovations,” Bowser wrote in a tweet. “These young women are just the type of people and scientists our world needs more of and we are proud to support their dreams.”
“Before the voting ended, members of the public were using social media to generate support for particular teams in the public voting,” reads a NASA statement. “NASA supports this kind of community-based effort to encourage students to engage with science, technology, engineering and math and recognizes social media as an important tool for that support. Votes generated this way are legitimate and will be counted. Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts. NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars.”