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NASA steps in after 4chan users try to rig contest against black teens

NASA steps in after 4chan users try to rig contest against black teens
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NASA has shut down the public voting phase for a national science competition after racist online trolls targeted a group of African-American teenagers, The Washington Post reports.

Three teenagers from Washington, D.C. — the competition's only all-black female team — were rising rapidly in the online voting phase of NASA's yearly high school science competition until their entry was targeted by users of the site 4chan, an image board notorious for raids on other websites and for being a haven for white supremacists.

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Users on the site organized a campaign to vote against the three Banneker High School teenagers, the Post reports, including urging users to download software to interfere with voting. NASA officials then canceled the voting, stating that an attempt had been made to change the final vote totals.

According to the Post, the users targeted the teens over their race, claiming that they only advanced as far as they did because of social media support. The three teens entered the competition with an invention that would purify lead-tainted water in school drinking fountains.

In a statement to the Post, NASA said that while it supports the use of social media to support teams, the 4chan effort crossed a line.

“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,” the agency's statement reads.

“NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars.”

Eight finalists, including the Banneker High School group, have been announced, with the agency announcing winners later in May. Winners will receive invitations to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for two days of workshops with NASA scientists.