Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Anna Sheffer
May 03, 2018 2:14 pm

Sadly, for all the wonderful things social media has brought us, the anonymity of the internet still enables trolls to torment others with hateful comments. Trolls, in fact, were behind a recent attempt to sabotage three black female students participating in a NASA science competition.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell, three high school juniors from Washington, D.C. made it to the final round of NASA’s high-school science competition, known as the Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge (OPSPARC). The three students were the only all-black, all-female team, and they made the finals for engineering a filter to detect contaminants in school drinking fountains.

But sadly, despite the students’ ingenious creation, trolls on 4chan — the same website that photoshopped an image of Emma González tearing up the Constitution — tried to hack the contest. According to NBC, the 4chan posters argued that the team’s supporters only voted for them because of their race. In response they asked followers to vote for other contestants and even use programs to cast fake votes. NBC reports that one poster described the plan as “NASA getting forcibly redpilled about minority collective voting power.”

On April 29th, NASA was forced to prematurely end public voting because of the hackers. In a statement issued on May 1st, the organization announced the decision.

“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,” the organization wrote on its website, “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 concluded that it supports “outreach and education for all Americans.” And thankfully, the organization revealed that it had retained a record of the votes before they were tampered with.

On April 30th, Sharrieff tweeted a statement about the hacking, thanking the team’s supporters.

According to the competition website, the three winning teams will be announced in early May. The champions will receive a trip to NASA’s Goddard Space Center in June.

The fact that these amazing young scientists were the target of hate for their race is sickening, but we’re relieved that NASA was able to stop these trolls. We’ll be keeping our eyes out for the OPSPARC winners and crossing our fingers for Skinner, Snell, and Sharrieff.

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