There was a time when hate speech was somewhat hidden – groups practiced their hatred behind closed doors. But in an age where the thoughts of those who hate can be immediately shared on social media sites, networks like 4Chan, Facebook, and Twitter have become breeding grounds for hatred and bigotry. Support and hatred for white nationalism, for example, came into the public sphere with the recent protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. To some, the future seems bleak – as these types of protests and acts of violence have become more common. While public discontent skews towards those who openly support Nazism (for example,) many people are asking a simple question – what role should technology companies play in stopping the spread of hatred?
It’s no simple task to control hate speech online, and nobody knows that more than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. When hateful speech started popping up on the site soon after its inception, Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives had to decide whether or not posts should be deleted if the Facebook community deems them hurtful or offensive. While the United States does boast the first amendment, which guarantees free speech, when does free speech become, well, too free? Free speech, and more specifically the guarantee of it, is the umbrella many extremists hide under – after all: if their words are protected, then what incentive do they have to refrain from posting racial slurs and extreme ideology if that’s what they believe?
Unfortunately, the inciting of action on the part of technology companies usually begins during the aftermath of a horrific event. In the case of murders being recorded on Facebook Live, stringent reporting became available. In the case of Charlottesville, Facebook and Twitter responded by issuing statements that their companies do not condone racism, and both sites would look into ways to increase security. This sounds like a good first step, doesn’t it?
The problem? Too much happens on social media. By too much, I’m referring to the sheer amount of information posted on a daily basis. Twitter estimates there are over 350,000 tweets sent a minute, and Facebook confirms five new profiles are made every second. With this kind of data intake, how are human monitors expected to keep track of every tweet and post, regardless of its content? The task may be difficult, but if there is one good thing that comes out of these events, it is the public outcry they create. It may not be a cure for hatred, but if there is one word more powerful than all the racial slurs in the world, it is this: resist.
disclaimer; gentlemen in the picture has no affiliation to current happenings. It’s just a picture…
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