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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Time for Twitter to clamp down on hate speech

The Guardian reports that shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has urged Twitter to take action over “highly offensive racist and misogynist” abuse on the platform after a study found thousands of tweets disproportionately targeting black female politicians and journalists.

The paper says that an Amnesty International study found black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets, with one in 10 posts mentioning black women containing “abusive or problematic” language.

They add that a separate Amnesty study published in September 2017 showed that Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, received almost half (45.1%) of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to that year’s general election:

For its latest study, volunteers for Amnesty’s “Troll Patrol” crowd-sourcing project analysed 228,000 tweets sent to 778 female politicians and journalists across the political spectrum in the UK and US.

The report found that 7.1% of tweets to women in the study contained abusive or problematic language.

According to the report: “Abusive content violates Twitter’s own rules and includes tweets that promote violence against or threaten people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.”

Problematic content” was defined as that which is “hurtful or hostile, especially if repeated to an individual on multiple or cumulative occasions”, but do not necessarily meet the threshold of abuse.

This is though is a much wider issue. As the Guardian reports:

The issue does not only affect politicians on the left: a University of Sheffield study of tweets between 2015 and 2017 published last year found that male Conservative MPs experienced the most abuse during the period, while female Tory MPs saw the largest increase in abuse.

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said earlier this year that colleagues had been advised by parliament’s health and wellbeing service to close down their Twitter accounts due to the angry messages they were receiving from members of the public.

Amnesty said: “Politicians and journalists faced similar levels of online abuse and we observed both liberals and conservatives alike, as well as left- and right-leaning media organisations, were affected.”

Although there needs to be a balance between free speech and acceptable behaviour, Amnesty's UK Director is absolutely right when she says Twitter is failing to be transparent about the extent of the problem. The company must take concrete steps to properly protect people on their platform, they must make it easier to report such abuse and act more quickly to sanction perpetrators.
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