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Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

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.

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.

​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.

WATCH: Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

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.

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.

“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’s Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

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iDnipro

Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

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.

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.

​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.

WATCH: Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

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.

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.

“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’s Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

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iDnipro

Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

Tech companies like Google’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have long been global platforms for free expression but are increasingly facing calls to respond to offensive and abusive comments on their sites. Michelle Quinn reports this is an issue both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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iDnipro

Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

Tech companies like Google’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have long been global platforms for free expression but are increasingly facing calls to respond to offensive and abusive comments on their sites. Michelle Quinn reports this is an issue both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!
iDnipro

Google Workers Protest China Plan Secrecy

Google is planning a return to China.

But the project is shrouded in secrecy, and employees are demanding transparency.

According to a report by The New York Times on Thursday, August 16, a petition calling for more oversight and accountability in the project racked up more than 1,000 signatures.

Reuters reported this month, the app is a bid to win approval from Beijing to provide a mobile search engine in China.

However, employees are concerned the app would support China’s restrictions on free expression and ultimately violate the company’s ‘don’t be evil’ code of conduct.

The petition, seen by Reuters says, “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

The company declined to comment.

Sources say the project – codenamed Dragonfly – would block certain websites and search terms.

It would also stand in stark contrast to eight years ago, when Google left China in protest of Beijing’s censorship.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly.

But in a transcript seen by Reuters, Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told employees “it’s all very unclear” whether Google would return to China at all.

He also said that development is still in the early stages, and that sharing information too early could quote “cause issues”.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!
iDnipro

Google Workers Protest China Plan Secrecy

Google is planning a return to China.

But the project is shrouded in secrecy, and employees are demanding transparency.

According to a report by The New York Times on Thursday, August 16, a petition calling for more oversight and accountability in the project racked up more than 1,000 signatures.

Reuters reported this month, the app is a bid to win approval from Beijing to provide a mobile search engine in China.

However, employees are concerned the app would support China’s restrictions on free expression and ultimately violate the company’s ‘don’t be evil’ code of conduct.

The petition, seen by Reuters says, “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

The company declined to comment.

Sources say the project – codenamed Dragonfly – would block certain websites and search terms.

It would also stand in stark contrast to eight years ago, when Google left China in protest of Beijing’s censorship.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly.

But in a transcript seen by Reuters, Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told employees “it’s all very unclear” whether Google would return to China at all.

He also said that development is still in the early stages, and that sharing information too early could quote “cause issues”.

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iDnipro

Can Twitter Change Its ‘Core’ and Remain Twitter?

After long resisting change, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to revamp the “core” of the service to fight rampant abuse and misinformation. But it’s not clear if changing that essence — how it rewards interactions and values popularity — would even work.

 

Though Dorsey was scant on details, what is certain is that the move will require huge investments for a company that doesn’t have the same resources that Google and Facebook have to throw at the problem. Any change is likely to affect how users engage with Twitter and hurt revenue, testing the patience of both users and investors.

 

“Social networks have a history of … well-intentioned but badly designed efforts to fix this,” said Nate Elliott, principal at marketing research firm Nineteen Insights.

 

Twitter isn’t alone in having to deal with hate, abuse, misinformation and bad actors using the service for elections interference, targeted harassment and scams. And Twitter isn’t alone in proposing fixes that don’t get to the heart of the problems.

 

Case in point: Facebook. After Russian trolls were found to have used Facebook to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including by purchasing ads, the company spent a lot of time and energy building a tool that shows who’s behind political advertisements. But Elliott said it’s not even clear which ads on Facebook are the ones causing problems around foreign elections meddling. In 2016, Russian agents weren’t so much running political ads for or against candidates but rather social ads on divisive such as gun control and immigration.

 

But like Facebook, Twitter has to try — or at least be seen as trying.

 

Dorsey told The Washington Post that Twitter had not considered changing the core of the service until now. Like Facebook and others, Twitter has been accused of tinkering around the edges, tweaking policies and hiring masses of moderators when what’s really needed is a fundamental shift in how they work and how they make money in order to survive. While many former executives and other insiders have proposed radical shifts at major social networks, it’s rare for a sitting CEO to propose something as drastic as revisiting the foundation that his company is built on.

 

“We often turn to policy to fix a lot of these issues, but I think that is only treating surface-level symptoms that we are seeing,” Dorsey said.

 

Twitter confirmed Dorsey’s comments to the Post, but declined further comment.

 

Revamping the core could mean changing the engagement and rewards designed to keep users coming back — in the form of seeing their tweets liked, responded to and retweeted, and seeing their follower counts grow. It’s the tiny dopamine hits we get with each like that makes us feel better and keeps us returning for more. Take that away, and users might not want to return. In turn, advertisers might stay away, too, as they rely on monthly and daily user numbers, as well as user interactions, to gauge how well their ads work and how much to spend.

 

Unlike Facebook, Elliott said, Twitter doesn’t have billions of users to absorb any hits on user growth. Even if the changes work, he said, “it’s going to cost them so many users and so much money I can’t imagine them sticking with these kinds of changes.”

 

Paul Verna, an analyst with research firm eMarketer, also isn’t “terribly optimistic” that Twitter can make its service safer without hurting its business. The same goes for Facebook, and YouTube.

 

“Because they rely on an advertising business model, they need to not only continue to reach audiences, but try to get them to spend as much time on platforms as possible,” he said. “That creates an inherent tension between your business needs and being a good citizen.”

 

That said, Twitter may not have to reinvent itself completely to improve. Elliott said better policies might go a long way toward reducing the abuse. For example, it’s currently OK to harass someone on Twitter, as long as it’s not harassment based on certain categories such as gender and sexual orientation. Elliott said Twitter may just need to prohibit all harassment.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us!
iDnipro

Can Twitter Change Its ‘Core’ and Remain Twitter?

After long resisting change, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to revamp the “core” of the service to fight rampant abuse and misinformation. But it’s not clear if changing that essence — how it rewards interactions and values popularity — would even work.

 

Though Dorsey was scant on details, what is certain is that the move will require huge investments for a company that doesn’t have the same resources that Google and Facebook have to throw at the problem. Any change is likely to affect how users engage with Twitter and hurt revenue, testing the patience of both users and investors.

 

“Social networks have a history of … well-intentioned but badly designed efforts to fix this,” said Nate Elliott, principal at marketing research firm Nineteen Insights.

 

Twitter isn’t alone in having to deal with hate, abuse, misinformation and bad actors using the service for elections interference, targeted harassment and scams. And Twitter isn’t alone in proposing fixes that don’t get to the heart of the problems.

 

Case in point: Facebook. After Russian trolls were found to have used Facebook to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including by purchasing ads, the company spent a lot of time and energy building a tool that shows who’s behind political advertisements. But Elliott said it’s not even clear which ads on Facebook are the ones causing problems around foreign elections meddling. In 2016, Russian agents weren’t so much running political ads for or against candidates but rather social ads on divisive such as gun control and immigration.

 

But like Facebook, Twitter has to try — or at least be seen as trying.

 

Dorsey told The Washington Post that Twitter had not considered changing the core of the service until now. Like Facebook and others, Twitter has been accused of tinkering around the edges, tweaking policies and hiring masses of moderators when what’s really needed is a fundamental shift in how they work and how they make money in order to survive. While many former executives and other insiders have proposed radical shifts at major social networks, it’s rare for a sitting CEO to propose something as drastic as revisiting the foundation that his company is built on.

 

“We often turn to policy to fix a lot of these issues, but I think that is only treating surface-level symptoms that we are seeing,” Dorsey said.

 

Twitter confirmed Dorsey’s comments to the Post, but declined further comment.

 

Revamping the core could mean changing the engagement and rewards designed to keep users coming back — in the form of seeing their tweets liked, responded to and retweeted, and seeing their follower counts grow. It’s the tiny dopamine hits we get with each like that makes us feel better and keeps us returning for more. Take that away, and users might not want to return. In turn, advertisers might stay away, too, as they rely on monthly and daily user numbers, as well as user interactions, to gauge how well their ads work and how much to spend.

 

Unlike Facebook, Elliott said, Twitter doesn’t have billions of users to absorb any hits on user growth. Even if the changes work, he said, “it’s going to cost them so many users and so much money I can’t imagine them sticking with these kinds of changes.”

 

Paul Verna, an analyst with research firm eMarketer, also isn’t “terribly optimistic” that Twitter can make its service safer without hurting its business. The same goes for Facebook, and YouTube.

 

“Because they rely on an advertising business model, they need to not only continue to reach audiences, but try to get them to spend as much time on platforms as possible,” he said. “That creates an inherent tension between your business needs and being a good citizen.”

 

That said, Twitter may not have to reinvent itself completely to improve. Elliott said better policies might go a long way toward reducing the abuse. For example, it’s currently OK to harass someone on Twitter, as long as it’s not harassment based on certain categories such as gender and sexual orientation. Elliott said Twitter may just need to prohibit all harassment.

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