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Twitter Seeks Help of Academic Scholars to Improve Healthy Conversation on its Platform

They will be studying how people use Twitter, and how exposure to a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can decrease prejudice and discrimination

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Twitter gives more freedom to report spam, fake accounts. Pixabay

In line with its efforts to curb abuse and harassment of users on its platform, Twitter has now selected two research projects that aim to develop metrics to measure the “health” of public conversation.

“An update! We’ve selected 2 partners from 230 idea submissions. Our first goal is working to measure the ‘health’ of public conversation, and that measurement be open and defined by third parties (not by us),” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet on Monday.

Earlier this year, the microblogging site said it would work to increase the collective health, openness, and civility of the dialogue on its service.

As part of these efforts, Twitter initiated a programme to suspend millions of fake accounts and in June announced the acquisition of Smyte, a San Francisco-based technology company that specialises in safety, spam, and security issues.

One of the two projects that the social network has now selected will be led by a political science professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

This project will develop two sets of metrics: how communities form around political discussions on Twitter, and the challenges that may arise as those discussions develop, Twitter said in a blog post.

The Leiden-led project will primarily focus on two key challenges: echo chambers and uncivil discourse.

Based on their past findings, echo chambers, which form when discussions involve only like-minded people and perspectives, can increase hostility and promote resentment towards those not having the same conversation.

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Twitter on a smartphone device. Pixabay

The project’s first set of metrics will assess the extent to which people acknowledge and engage with diverse viewpoints on Twitter.

The second set of metrics will focus on incivility and intolerance in Twitter conversations. The group has found that while incivility, which breaks norms of politeness, can be problematic, it can also serve important functions in political dialog.

In contrast, intolerant discourse — such as hate speech, racism, and xenophobia — is an inherent threat to democracy.

The team will therefore work on developing algorithms that distinguish between these two behaviours, Twitter said.

The other project will be led by scholars from the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam.

They will be studying how people use Twitter, and how exposure to a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can decrease prejudice and discrimination.

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As part of the project, text classifiers for language commonly associated with positive sentiment, cooperative emotionality, and integrative complexity will be adapted to the structure of communication on Twitter, the microblogging site said.

“Ensuring we have thoughtful, comprehensive metrics to measure the health of public conversation on Twitter is crucial to guiding our work and making progress, and both of our partners will help us continue to think critically and inclusively so we can get this right,” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead and David Gasca, Director, Product Management, Health at Twitter wrote in the blog.

“We know this is a very ambitious task, and look forward to working with these two teams, challenging ourselves to better support a thriving, healthy public conversation,” they added. (IANS)

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Social Media Users at Twitter, Instagram Go ‘Blue’ in Support of Sudan

The Army cracked down on the demonstrators and destroyed the encampment, the nerve centre of the protest that led to the overthrow of long-running President Omar al-Bashir on April 11

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Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are displayed on an iPhone, March 13, 2019, in New York. VOA

In a bid to raise awareness about the current volatile situation in Sudan, social media users in large numbers have turned their profile picture blue.

While some Twitter and Instagram users have made the profile picture circle appear solid blue, others posted a solid blue square as an image. Some have done both.

Instagram has so far recorded close to 18,000 posts with the hashtag #BlueForSudan.

“It is time to stand hand in hand. Their voices must be heard. #BlueForSudan,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Ignorance is worse than violence.. Stand with Humanity, Stand with #sudan #BlueForSudan,” wrote another.

Some users have also posted the drawing of a crying woman wearing a hijab to draw attention to the political crisis in the north African country.

The violence in Sudan followed a couple of months after the ouster of long-running President Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

UN Chief, Sudan Protesters
Sudanese protesters use burning tires to erect a barricade on a street, demanding that the country’s Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3, 2019. VOA

The trigger for social media users to turn blue was the death of a young man who was allegedly killed during a crackdown on protesters on June 3.

“Those who are taking part in spreading #BlueForSudan. The colour blue came from a warm hearted, martyr known as, Mohammed Hashim Mattar, my cousin who has passed away on the 3rd of June, as he was standing proud. Blue was his fav colour, which now presents unity. Mattar’s Blue,” tweeted one user.

To honour his death, Mattar’s friends and family put up the blue colour on their profiles, but others soon followed.

The Sudanese government last Thursday said that 46 people were killed in “recent events” that began with an assault on a protest camp earlier this week in the capital Khartoum, while the opposition Committee of Doctors said at least 108 people had died.

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In what was the first official death toll since a military crackdown on a camp that had been set up for two months, the Sudanese Undersecretary for the Health Ministry, Suleiman Abdul Jabbar, said in a statement that the toll had not reached 100, Efe news reported.

Sudanese security forces last Monday raided an encampment that had been set up in front of the Army headquarters since April 6 and began firing to clear the area.

The Army cracked down on the demonstrators and destroyed the encampment, the nerve centre of the protest that led to the overthrow of long-running President Omar al-Bashir on April 11. (IANS)