There used to be a time when you would only read or see stories of the wild west through books and television. Bank robbers, evil politicians and lynch gangs were just stories that you could tune into on HBO every Sunday night. Then afterward tweet about how you hated it and sign a petition for the entire season to be re-written with competent writers.
However, just like Westworld we’ve gone meta.
Now those same lynch gangs and evil politicians log onto the same platforms we do to spew hatred and organize rallies for their own evil schemes. I wish this was entirely a joke, but it isn’t. People like Richard Spencer, Faith Goldy and former Grand Wizard David Duke have all flourished online, spreading messages of hate far and wide to those who would listen. When the Ku Klux Klan uses your website to organize a hate rally, that’s probably a good indicator you have a problem on your hands.
It’s a problem too massive to ignore.
More and more, we’re starting to see violence on these websites that have begun to translate into real world violence against Muslims and other minorities. In Australia, the Christchurch shooting was broadcast on Facebook live before being taken down minutes later. The terrorist that conducted this act had frequently posted racist and hate filled speech on social media.
When Jack Dorsey was confronted with the growing issue of White Nationalism at a TED talk in Vancouver this was his response:
“We have policies around violent and extremist groups, and the majority of our work and our terms of service works on conduct, not content. So we’re actually looking for conduct. So conduct being using the service to periodically or episodically to harass someone, using hateful imagery that might be associated with the KKK or the American Nazi Party. Those are all things that we act on immediately.”
Back in April, Facebook banned White Nationalism on its website. This after an investigation conducted by Motherboard that found that while Facebook banned White Supremacy, it allowed White Nationalism (more on this in a second).
While all of this sounds effective, it doesn’t actually seem to be happening. Multiple investigations have come out against Twitter and Facebook and how they actually under enforce these policies. In a recent article published by Huffpost, it was discovered that despite numerous suspensions or investigations into people on Twitter, a number of them have either found ways around punishment or were never actually punished at all.
One example (and the article gives a number of them): Mike Cernovich, a prominent conservative personality and troll on twitter, was allowed to harass humorist Vic Berger multiple times on the platform. Cernovich falsely claimed that Berger stalked children and even tried to hurt Cernovich’s daughter. Berger then tried to report this to Twitter, which responded saying that his account had been suspended. However, the troll was never suspended and even after a second attempt at reporting the troll, nothing was actually done.
On Facebook, Buzzfeed found that even though they banned White Nationalism over a month ago, many of the groups they’ve banned are still on the website. Groups like the Proud Boys and Soldiers of Odin have simply changed their names slightly, which allowed them to stay online. It’s the equivalent to putting on fake glasses and a mustache to fool someone into thinking your someone else.
We really don’t even need these extensive reports to see that these websites aren’t even trying to enforce their own policies. When a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came out, which was shared by the president, the company acknowledged that it was fake but refused to remove it in the same stroke.
Not to be outmatched, Dorsey took time to call Representative Ilhan Omar to explain to her that they wouldn’t be removing a tweet from the president that incited violence against her. He also took time to listen to President Trump complain about how social media has been silencing conservative voices. To Dorsey’s credit, he has. Twitter has banned several conservative voices including most famously Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars.
It almost seems like these companies want to play both sides of the coin to avoid any real responsibility or call to action. Otherwise why else would they announce sweeping changes to their policies but then also not actually do anything to enforce them? They want their hate filled cake, and they want to eat it too.
It’s probably carrot cake. A violent, racist, antisemitic carrot cake.
A simple explanation for all of this, Twitter’s Co-Founder EV Williams on CNN Business this week:
“We underestimated the level of bad actors that we would see and the level of impact they would have.”
Which sort of holds up. Vice’s Motherboard reported in April that the reason it seems like Twitter is dragging their knuckles with banning White Supremacist accounts is that their algorithms would also ban republican politicians. Ignoring the fact that this should say a lot about how our current political environment is, this poses a serious problem for Twitter and Facebook.
For example, when Twitter effectively removed all ISIS propaganda from their website, the algorithm also removed some Arabic speaking accounts also. This is the trade off and it poses a serious question for Twitter and Facebook.
How do you eliminate the bad actors while protecting those who aren’t?
Twitter has begun taking steps to solve this problem. It was reported that they have begun to work with researchers on the subject to improve their methods of banning individuals that break their guidelines. They’ve also pushed this idea of counter-speech and conversation, which is essentially telling people like David Duke that they’re wrong and explaining why.
However, I don’t think this is the correct way of handling this problem. The platform already has data and researchers in the field they can use any time they wanted, their own community. They don’t need a team to look into how to handle this problem and if your algorithms don’t work who better than the users to get this information from. On top of that, counter-speech never works, in fact I would argue that this is exactly the type of reaction that these people want. A strong opposition and their message gets magnified, this is also why I refuse to link anything they’ve said or their pages.
They just need to be more proactive with the data they already have.
Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have a fundamental duty to protect their users from hate speech from white nationalists. In the end, the White Nationalists that use their social media platforms are exactly the same as ISIS and other foreign terrorist groups that have used it. These groups use social media to recruit and organize demonstrations like the one in Dayton last week, like Charlottesville where one person lost their life.
I’ve stated before that I’m all for removing users from your platform on both the left and right that violate user guidelines. That being said, there’s a difference between saying you’re going to do something and actually doing it.
When you start stonewalling your own community, then what was the point of implementing those guidelines in the first place? Facebook and Twitter will never truly be safe until they start enforcing their policies fairly and effectively.
Make the users who follow your rules actually feel safe.
Actually Listen to them.