Monday, August 10, 2015

Stop Cyberhate - Not The Internet

If you’ve been following the tech news you may have heard that British MP Luciana Berger and others in Europe have  been calling on Twitter to remove all anti-Semitic speech. 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 terrible distortions at worst.  At the very least she seems to consider Twitter the source and vector for all such things. There was recently an election 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 underlying challenges and problems connected to them. .

Stopping 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 and refute it.  That cannot happen when the words and phrases are abolished. The technology does not yet exist that can detect the subtlety of phrases and innuendo that is often involved. Considering the billions of users and posts, it is impossible for companies to train the necessary army of moderators to be able to review and 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   With all our experience we are still seeing channels, pages and users being banned, deleted and unpublished in error.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  to comply doesn’t exist, the laws are unenforceable and largely meaningless.  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 nothing more than sounds.  We all deserve a solution to online hate that is intrinsic, real and enduring. 

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