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Reducing online abuse

Published onDec 23, 2019
Reducing online abuse

It may seem like internet discussions are just doomed to be hateful and uncivil. But the crummy quality of online discussion has a lot to do with the decisions social media companies have made about how to keep users coming back and how to maximize their profits, as I discussed in the book.

With the ability that social media have given us to post anything we want, anytime, comes the flipside of hateful, abusive, revolting content. In the name of “free speech,” social media companies have not made it a priority to moderate what users post. This also gives them the benefit of not having to hire as many people to moderate—which is great for their bottom line. (Sites like Facebook usually hire moderators as contractors and pay them a tiny fraction of the salaries they pay employees in the Bay Area. They have also failed to support them with vital services like counseling, much less needed breaks from their horrifying work.)

How do we stop hateful speech online?

Change The Terms is a coalition of organizations urging social media companies change how they handle hateful speech. Here’s the list of changes they’d like to see these companies make to their terms of service and enforcement of the rules.

Like the author of this article in Gizmodo, you can also figure out who is hosting hate sites and pressure those service providers to stop doing business with groups that promote violent hatred. If you host your own website with that provider, you can threaten to take your business elsewhere, or publicize their relationship with the hate site.

Learn how to report hateful or violent content on social media. If it doesn’t get reported, it’s more likely to spread, and more people are likely to see it as normal. Generally you can do a search for “report abuse on [the name of the site],” but here’s a short list of how to identify and report abuse on:

You can also learn how to counteract hate speech with positive speech. Check out the #iamhere movement, which encourages people to speak up in threads of hateful speech to make it clear that such attitudes are not acceptable.

As I recommend in Keep Calm and Log On, cut back on the amount of time you spend on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter that encourage you to speak to a huge audience, encourage people to re-post stuff without thinking, and serve you up algorithmic “mystery meat” in your feeds. Try to spend more time on chat apps, where you’re just talking to friends or small groups. Small-group conversations can be more accountable to norms that discourage abuse. They can slow people’s roll in re-posting hateful content, and they keep your discussion away from the influence of algorithms like YouTube’s that can push people to extremes. Check out the book for tips on how to make this switch.

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