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Social Media Giants Face Complications Dealing With Online Offensive Speech

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech.

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Social media. Offensive Speech
An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013. U.S. internet companies are taking a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world.. VOA

Twitter users are blocking companies like Pepsi, Nike and Uber on Twitter to pressure the social media firm to permanently ban American broadcaster Alex Jones for what they say are his abusive tweets and offensive speech.

Meanwhile, Twitter reportedly is facing a shutdown in Pakistan because of a government request to block what it deems objectionable content.

The moves come as U.S. internet companies take a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world. The companies have a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to curtailing speech, except when it comes to inciting violence and pornography. But that largely permissive approach is getting a new look.

Alex Jones
Alex Jones from Infowars.com speaks during a rally in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. VOA

Twitter and Alex Jones

Twitter recently slapped a seven-day ban on conservative American radio host Jones for violating its policy on abusive speech, when he appeared to call for violence against the media, something he denies.

On his show this week, Jones noted that Twitter had removed his videos.

“They took me down,” he said. “Because they will not let me have a voice.”

Earlier this month, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube and other social media limited Jones and his InfoWars media company from their sites. But InfoWars’ live-streaming app can still be found at Google and Apple’s app stores. The on-air personality has put forth conspiracy theories calling some U.S. mass shootings hoaxes.

No more hands off

Internet firms are moving away from the long-held position that they didn’t want to monitor expression on their sites too closely, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University, said.

“The companies are stuck in the middle and no longer trying to avoid responsibility in a way that I think they were even a few years ago when they were saying we are just neutral platforms,” Raicu said. “They are increasingly taking a more open role in determining what content moderation looks like.”

It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. The firms are also grappling with extreme speech in other languages.

Comments on Facebook have been linked to violence in places like Myanmar and India. A recent article by the Reuters news agency reports that negative messages about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group were throughout its site.

social media apps
It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. Wikimedia

Some call on social media companies to do more to target and take down hate messages before they lead to violence.

“If Facebook is bent on removing abusive words and nudity, they should be focused on removing these words as well,” said Abhinay Korukonda, a student from Mumbai, India, who is studying at the University of California, Berkeley. “This comes under special kinds of abusive terms. They should take an action. They should definitely remove these.”

Objective standards

Ming Hsu studies decision-making at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is researching how to come up with objective standards for determining whether certain speech could lead to real-world dangers against people both in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We don’t have actionable standards for policymakers or for companies or even lay people to say, ‘This is crossing the boundaries, this is way past the boundaries and this is sort of OK,’” Hsu said.

Those calls are even harder when looking at speech in other languages and cultures, he added.

Also Read: Twitter CEO Expands on Why He Won’t Ban Alex Jones, Infowars

“We don’t really have any intuition for who’s right, who is wrong and who is being discriminated against,” Hsu said. “And that gets back to relying on common sense and how fragile that is.”

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech as they draw the line between free expression and reducing harm. (VOA)

 

Next Story

People Use Hate Speech While Searching About Terrorism on Social Media

People post hate speech while seeking answers on terrorism

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Social Media terrorism
People often resort to using hate speech when searching about terrorism on a community group social media platform. Pixabay

People often resort to using hate speech when searching about terrorism on a community group social media platform, say researchers.

According to Snehasish Banerjee, lecturer at the York Management School, University of York, it appears seems that people are really curious to know about terrorists, what terrorists think, their ideas, etc.

“While portrayed as a threat to society and human civilisation by mainstream media, terrorists sell terrorism as freedom fighting via social networking sites and private messaging platforms,” said Banerjee.

“However, the actual workings of terrorism are largely shrouded in secrecy. For the curious, a convenient avenue to turn to is the community question answering sites”.

Community question answering sites (CQAs) are social media platforms where users ask questions, answer those submitted by others, and have the option to evaluate responses. Previous studies have mainly looked at terrorism-related data drawn from Facebook and Twitter, this was the first to examine trends on the CQA site, Yahoo! Answers.

Social Media terrorism
While portrayed as a threat to society and human civilisation by mainstream media, terrorists sell terrorism as freedom fighting via social media platforms. Pixabay

The University of York study explored the use of Yahoo! Answers on the topic of terrorism and looked at a dataset of 300 questions that attracted more than 2,000 answers. The questions reflected the community’s information needs, ranging from the life of extremists to counter-terrorism policies. Sensitive questions outnumbered innocuous ones.

A typical innocuous question was: Who exactly created ISIS?, while a more sensitive question was: Do you agree with Donald Trump that we should ban Muslims coming from countries seized by ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists? According to the findings, sensitive questions were significantly more likely to be submitted anonymously than innocuous ones.

While no significant difference arose with respect to answers, the paper found that identities were seldom recognisable. Using names non-traceable to themselves, the community group users become embolden to use provocative, inflammatory or uncivil language. “We found that answers were laden with negative emotions reflecting hate speech and Islamophobia, making claims that were rarely verifiable,” said Banerjee.

Also Read- Facebook and Twitter Remain Divided due to Bloomberg’s Video

Users who posted sensitive questions and answers generally tended to remain anonymous.

“This paper calls for governments and law enforcement agencies to collaborate with major social media companies, including CQAs, to develop a process for cross-platform blacklisting of users and content, as well as identifying those who are vulnerable,” the authors noted in the Aslib Journal of Information Management. (IANS)