Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stop Hate - Ban Computers


If you’ve been following the tech news you may have heard that British MP Luciana Berger is calling on Twitter to remove all anti-Semitic language. First, her statement presupposes that the hate is only on Twitter and that other hate on Twitter is OK. These statements are problematic at best and horrible distortions at worst.  At the very least she seems to consider Twitter the source and vector for all such things. It is an election year in the UK and singling out Twitter, by Berger and others, appears little more than fashionable politicking.  

The worst part is, of course, that things politicians say receive media coverage. In receiving media coverage these statements gain credibility without consideration for the challenges and problems they represent. 

To stop anti-Semitic, or any hate speech, is an admirable objective. However, to eliminate such things from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or the comment sections of other websites, does not eliminate the hate from the world. Sometimes you need to repeat the hate in order to expose it. How is that supposed to happen when the words and phrases are abolished? The technology does not yet exist that can detect such subtlety of use. Considering the billions of users, it is impossible for the necessary army of moderators to be trained to act consistently.   With all our experience we are still seeing channels, pages and users being banned, deleted and unpublished in error. We don’t have the answer yet. 

Recently we have seen technology make it possible to block content prohibited by local law on a country by country basis.  No matter what governments mandate, if the technology doesn’t exist to comply, the laws are largely unenforceable. The future answers to hate speech online will come from technology. Governments will not be the ones to create it. 

The companies are not the problem; they are the key to the solution. For government representatives to cast industry in an adversarial role is shortsighted and counterproductive. 

There is a problem, without question.  Too often the easy sounding solution turns out to be just sound.  We all deserve a solution to online hate that is intrinsic, real and enduring. 

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