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Black Teens Who Reached NASA Competition Finals Meet With Racism Online

May 04, 2018 09:44 PM EDT
Teenage finalists for a NASA high school competition face racism online during the social media voting.
(Photo : Ethan Miller | Getty Images)

Hackers target three teenage finalists of a NASA competition for their race, spewing racist sentiments on social media and manipulating voting to guarantee their loss.

Banneker High School juniors Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell designed a water purification system that propelled them to the final stage of NASA's prestigious science competition for high school students.

Social Media Users Push For Trio's Loss

The final stage is online voting, which should go smoothly for the three 17-year-old students. Instead, the trio became the targets of blatant racism.

Washington Post reports that users on the anonymous internet forum 4chan started a campaign to ensure the trio would not win the competition.

Anonymous users reportedly slammed the students online, accusing the black community of leading them to a win just because of their race. The members of the site were urged to take action against the all-female trio, from voting against them to hacking the system to increase the votes of another team of boys.

NASA, Students Respond

In an official statement, NASA reveals that voting has already been compromised, and the agency had to end online voting earlier than they planned to.

"Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA's attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students ... but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encourage others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts," NASA states.

On the other hand, Sharrieff, Skinner, and Snell only want to focus on their impressive project and the impact it could have on different high schools.

In a report from WUSA, Skinner explains that the team came up with their project after a number of their school's water fountains were closed for lead contamination.

"So we wanted to create a water filtration system that would purify unclean water found in public schools," Skinner continues.

Her teammate Sharrieff adds that their coach from the Inclusive Innovation Incubator introduced the girls to the project back in November, which was perfect since all three students wanted to do something related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

"African American young girls and women of color are underrepresented in this field so we wanted to promote ourselves and show other young girls you can do it and don't let race be a barrier," she explains.

Race, it turns out, has become a major issue for their online voters. However, it doesn't diminish anything from the experience of the students.

"We decided not to worry about that and remain positive and keep smiles on our faces because everything about this is a great experience," Snell says.

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