Shavone C. is a tech and cultural pioneer in her own right.
The multihyphenate is the head of diversity and inclusion communications at TikTok, and she’s a big reason why your favorite social media platforms began truly taking the undeniable force and movement that Black people create on the internet seriously. And she’s written a YA book about it.
Published by Penguin Random House on Tuesday as a part of its “Pocket Change Collective” series, “Black Internet Effect” is a memoir in the early life and career of Shavone, whose full name is Shavone Charles. The book documents the ways her work at companies (including Twitter, Instagram and Meta) has created space for people of color, especially Black women, while laying out how Black people have literally built and popularized the biggest trends and cultural milestones on the internet.
Shavone, whose mission is to disrupt the status quo and bring more equity and representation to tech and entertainment, explained exactly what she means by that.
“‘Black Internet Effect’ is the influence of power and ultimately IP that Black people wield on the internet,” she said. “If you think of the concept of a butterfly effect or a domino effect, a ripple, it’s a wave, but it has a source. I see us as the source and the pulse of everything that is, that will be, that was. When it comes down to mainstream trends, when it comes down to what people are buying, what they’re doing, what they’re watching, what they’re listening to, what they think they should be wearing, what they think is cool or interesting, we’re the zeitgeist.”
And this book couldn’t have come at a better time. As conversations swirl around Black Twitter about the future of the platform and Black creators across sites hold tech companies accountable, the San Diego-based author notes that “Black Internet Effect” is a relevant read for all and a reminder of the power of Black culture.
“It’s not regimented just for if you want to be in tech or just if you want to work for anybody,” she said. “If you don’t want to work for anybody, the bigger message around ‘Black Internet Effect’ is truly like you are who you’ve been waiting for. You are capable of things beyond measure. You can do it. You can do it. That’s what I want people to feel walking away from reading that book.”
Shavone breaks down how she coined “Black Internet Effect,” her work in social media and what the future of Black people on the internet looks like.
Congratulations on your debut book. How did the concept for “Black Internet Effect” come about?
Shavone: I wrote this book over the pandemic, toward the latter half of it. I wrote it in San Diego at home, and it was just such a powerful respite and escape for me. I was in this space where I actually had some clarity and time to look back and recollect and dig through some of the highs and lows of my career and going back to the earlier versions of myself — which was easier to do when I was at home around my family.
Penguin did the second installment of their “Pocket Change” series, and they reached out to me to be a part of it.
We grew up on Auntie Maya [Angelou], Zora [Neale Hurston], everybody. These women raised us. They continue to help teach us how to do life. And I was an English literature major in college, so I’ve always been into literature and writing. Obviously lots of parallels. But long story short, that’s how the op came about. And I ended up having to decide what I wanted it to be about and landed on Black Internet Effect.
Tell me about the importance of that. One thing that really struck me was on the first page, you defining that even though tech is a product that was designed to leave us out, we created it. Why the Black Internet Effect? Define that for me and why laying that out is important.
I see Black Internet Effect as the source of the zeitgeist of Black influence and Black culture and how nothing moves without us. So that’s sort of how I define it. And I think Black Internet Effect manifests itself in so many different ways. It’s like this octopus that has its tentacles wrapped into every aspect of culture and what we watch on TV, what we consume, what we buy. That’s sort of where I see it. I see it kind of as the source, as us being the source of that and us being the source of so many microcosms and so many kind of trends. And you know this as being a Black woman, oftentimes I think pointing out Black Internet Effect and realizing that it’s not just one thing, that it’s everything is powerful because oftentimes we’re either not credited for our ideas at all, we’re completely invisible, or we’re robbed of our ideas. And the impact is either belittled, unrecognized completely or downplayed. We’re always being downplayed.
And I think it’s really important, especially in the world of tech and social media, to acknowledge that without us, there’s no entertainment. Without us, there are no trending topics. There’s no news. That’s just what I believe. So I think for me, as far as the importance of writing this book now, and this is something I have been thinking about for a long time. From my lens of just being behind the scenes, I’m a real data-driven person and I’ve been exposed to so much data and so many graphs of social behavior, looking at trends, looking at where they started, looking at how they travel, looking at how communities literally are mobilizing movements online that spill over into real life.
I think we know qualitatively the influence of Blackness. But being able to quantify it and seeing the numbers behind it is truly what has pushed me to speak about this more. But when it comes to social movement, when it comes to community, really look at how we’re transforming these platforms and really look at how we are the backbone of these social institutions and these platforms that we’re using every day and how our voices are transforming how everybody experiences these platforms.
That’s why it’s just so jarring seeing this massively devastating layoff at Twitter — a lot of folks who are people of color, a lot of folks who are Black. It’s just really unfortunate and not surprising because again, like you said, these institutions are not built for us in mind, but we create and we are the backbone of them. You’ve been very vocal and instrumental in making sure that our voices are at the forefront and at the table and amplified. What are your thoughts around what’s going on and what the future of the Black Internet Effect will be?
Honestly, I think the future is financial freedom for us. Even if you think about the creator economy and really how much influence Black creators have when it comes to TV, film, us being able to turn our social accounts into portfolios, into movie deals, into book deals or whatever it might be, I think there’s already been this transition happening where we’ve been in this renaissance with Black creators and creatives where we actually are now in a space where we recognize our worth. We’re not letting people trick us out of our worth or trick us into thinking something was their idea. We’re standing in front of our ideas and also demanding equity and then, on the other end, doing the legwork to understand the business and the industries that we’re in.
I think one thing when it comes to IP law, copyright, if you look at [choreographer] JaQuel Knight, a really good friend of mine, all the work he’s been doing around dance copyright, I think the industries are evolving and we need to stay.
It’s hard to say because we are so underresourced, and it sucks to say we have to keep doing all the work. I hate to say, and I talk about this in my book — nobody’s coming to save us. Nobody is coming to relieve us of our duties or finally give us what we’re owed. Nobody’s coming to do that. We have to demand it. We have to apply pressure.
Look at what Ryan [Wilson] and T.K. [Petersen] are doing at the [private membership network] Gathering Spot LA. There are movements in leaders emerging and breaking through. And I think we all have to have this web of support, communication like what we were talking about, transparent sharing, education. It’s about financial literacy, honestly. It’s about legal literacy. I think the more we understand that, the more we can chart out a long-term path to ownership and joint ownership, and/or at least being able to demand equity and fair pay for what we’re bringing to the table, and visibility, but paid visibility. Not just “I started this trend. I’m cool. I have a cool factor. I have fame. I have followers.” But being able to monetize your influence is really all about understanding the business. And I think that’s the only way I see an equitable future being carved out for us where we’re not in the dark, we understand the business and we understand our worth.
What’s the importance of this book being a YA book for you?
I think for me and for the “Pocket Change Collective” just in general, the series being YA really excited me because I went into “Black Internet Effect” writing more about the early chapter of my career and wanting the book to be a beacon of light, but also a flashlight of sorts for a younger me or my nieces or my little cousins or my sisters. I wrote “Black Internet Effect” for young Black women first. And it doesn’t mean everybody else can’t benefit from reading it.
Absolutely, if you’re a next-generation leader or thought leader, and/or if you’re in high school or in middle school, or if you’re a seasoned professional in your career and you want to make sure you ask the questions that you might be afraid to ask, to push for equity, to fight for yourself, to realize “what is possible for me if I’m not afraid, if I didn’t have fear, what could I do?”
The book being YA is important because if I look back at a lot of moments where I fell and scraped my knees figuratively and I didn’t have anyone to tell me anything, oftentimes we don’t have that mentor that we think we needed. We have to be it for ourselves and be it for each other. And as a young adult, as a teenager in San Diego, California, I was the only Black girl in my AP English classes. That’s just the kind of place I grew up in.
If you’re an underrepresented young person, you just miss out on so much and you have to do so much extra work. And it would be so much more helpful if somebody just shared information with you, gave you the tools to build whatever you want to build. “Black Internet Effect” is a toolkit for those who want to build whatever they want to build. It’s not regimented just for if you want to be in tech or just if you want to work for a large company. If you don’t want to work for anyone, the bigger message around “Black Internet Effect” is truly you are who you’ve been waiting for. You are capable of things beyond measure. You can do it. That’s what I want people to feel walking away from reading that book.
What is a nugget that you wish that someone would’ve told you when you were coming up, whether it be in this book or not?
That is a really good question. Honestly, it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to need help. It is OK to need help. That is something I’m still constantly reminding myself of. And I think growing up and being more isolated as a Black woman, you just take on so much on your own. You just take on everything. You take on the world. And having that chip on your shoulder is great because it motivates you, but it can also weigh you down.
That’s so real. What are you doing these days to free yourself of that weight?
Just giving myself time to search and navigate I think, being OK with not having it all planned out and all figured out . But I think the point is you have to have balance. And I think now with this place where I’m at in my career, I am focused. I’m continuing to try to focus on leaning into what feels good and what feels right and what feels like a right fit for me and where I am in my life right now as a person and where my values are. Those things evolve.
How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered through the lens of seeds planted and just people and journies that I’ve been able to nourish and help sprout and blossom. I want to be remembered through the impact I’ve left through the lives that I can touch and help change for the better and the ideas that I can help seed. I think it was a quote from Tupac where he said, if your ideas can plant seeds, then you’ve won. If you can plant new seeds, it’s beyond you.
If you can spark ideas in people or spark a light in someone where they take that light, they change their life, maybe they take that light and they spark it in somebody else, to me that’s true legacy. And I think generational change for the better for us, for our people, whether that’s through financial means or just resources or even just with this book, just that this book can live out into the world when I’m long gone and do the same thing that all of Langston Hughes’ poems have done for me, that all of Maya Angelou’s work has done for me and other generations. If any of my writings can do that, then I’d be happy with that.
If you could define in a few words the impact that you’ve had on tech and culture, what would it be?
Unapologetic and blueprint.
I love that. Was there anything that we didn’t discuss in regards to your debut book or your career journey?
This is my first book, but it will not be my last!