Twitter Hate Speech: Fight It With More Speech, Not Less

Twitter for TerrorTwitter received an “F” grade and the unenviable title of “best social media for promoting terror and hate” in a recent report and presentation on Capitol Hill, where report cards were issued for several of the world’s most popular social networking sites.  Presented by the controversial Simon Wiesenthal Center, their 14th annual “Digital Terrorism and Hate” report tracks and reports the distressing proliferation of hate groups and hate communications across social media.  The report includes advocacy of increased site policing and censorship; policies which deserve some careful scrutiny.

Twitter’s “F” grade is attributed to a large volume of hate speech and to its open policy where users can post anything without it being screened or removed. The popular site is “communicating a minimum of 20,000 hate-spewing hash tags and handles this year, up 30% from last year,” according to the report.

YouTube fared only slightly better, with a “C minus” rating. The video site, owned by Google, was credited with having community guidelines that prohibit the promotion of dangerous or illegal activities or incitement to violent acts, but is still in need of “much improvement.”

Facebook, by contrast, received an “A minus” rating, mostly due to its “extensive partnership” with the center. The details of the partnership in actual terms is unclear, but Facebook executives have been consistent in the site’s policy to regularly patrol users’ content to prevent misuse, remove offensive material, and stop the promotion of violence, as these are considered breaches of Facebook’s terms of service.

The report went on to address several thousand other websites, forums, games, and mobile apps which they considered problematic, raising alarming statistics and asking for greater action and committed resources in digital policing and censorship among law enforcement agencies. To assist in this effort, the center has released an app designed specifically for police agencies, which will “illustrate trends in how terrorist and hate groups manipulate and leverage digital technologies.”

Genuine efforts to track and document known violent groups online should be welcome news for all of us who value justice and aim to build a collaborative digital community.  Watchdog groups and statistic gathering clearinghouses can provide us with important information and trends about internet use.  It is important, however, to stay clear from heavy-handed censorship tactics that threaten to encroach on online users’ privacy and trespass on the internet’s potential as an open platform.

Facebook has been roundly criticized and protested by privacy and civil-liberties organizations for its willingness to censor “offensive” content like nudity art and political statements. The key to combating online hate speech, violent incitements, and offensive content is not censorship, but fostering an open online community where forum trolls, racistsidiots, and violent agitators are marginalized through revelation and direct challenge — through more speech, not less.

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