A recent study, titled Troll Patrol project, compiled jointly by Amnesty International and Element AI, a Canadian AI software firm, finds that black female journalists and politicians are 84 percent more likely to be the target of hate speech on Twitter. The study, carried out with the support of thousands of volunteers, examined roughly 228,000 tweets sent to 778 women politicians and journalists in the U.S. and U.K. in 2017. The report’s disturbing findings have sparked an international uproar and a barrage of criticism against the social media giant, which apparently fails to curb hate speech on its platform.
The study found that a total of 1.1 million dehumanising tweets were sent to the women examined, which is the equivalent of one every 30 seconds, and that 7.1 percent of all tweets sent to these women were abusive. Amnesty International regards such trolling as a violation of these women’s human rights, stating that “Our conclusion is that online abuse [works] against the freedom of expression for women because it gets them to withdraw, it gets them to limit their conversations and sometimes to leave the platform altogether… But we never really knew how big a problem was because Twitter holds all the data. Every time we ask for reports, they’re very vague, telling us that they’re taking some small steps. … Because they didn’t give us the data, we had to do it ourselves.”
Amnesty was soon joined by public figures, politicians, and organisations who criticised Twitter’s incompetent mechanism of removing abusive content and the company’s failure to properly adopt its recent policy revisions meant to strengthen monitoring of dangerous and offensive tweets. Twitter’s shares reportedly took a 12 percent nosedive yesterday, after being referred to as “toxic”, “uninvestable”, and “the Harvey Weinstein of social media” by an influential research firm called Citron. “The hate on Twitter is real and the company is not taking proper steps to curb the problem,” Citron said in a statement, adding that the company’s failure to “effectively tackle violence and abuse on the platform has a chilling effect on freedom of expression online.”
Similarly to Facebook, Twitter relies heavily on AI algorithms to spot and remove content deemed inappropriate, violent, or discriminatory. Yet, such machines often fail to pick up on hate speech that relies on context and is not easily discernible. A tweet like “Go back to the kitchen, where you belong”, for instance, will less likely be spotted by an AI machine than “all women are scum”.
Twitter, on its part, claims that ‘problematic speech’ is difficult to define and that often it’s hard to determine what counts as dehumanising. “I would note that the concept of ‘problematic’ content for the purposes of classifying content is one that warrants further discussion,” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal officer, said in a statement, adding that “We work hard to build globally enforceable rules and have begun consulting the public as part of the process.”
There is no doubt that social media companies such as Twitter must further develop their content monitoring tools, by fusing AI algorithms with, yes, air-breathing-real-world humans, who prove to still be indispensable and irreplaceable. This, therefore, becomes not only a technology issue but an HR and resource allocation one; Twitter and its social media buds should increase the size of its content control divisions until machines can effectively and truly master the art of reading comprehension.
Other than forcing Twitter to get tougher on hate speech, people must take a moment to truly reflect on who the report identifies as the primary target of trolling: female minorities who raise their voice publicly, whether as a U.K parliament member, U.S. Congresswoman or Senator, or a journalist. The challenge is then not only to remove content that abuses minority women and discourages them from remaining visible and active, but also to recognise that we live in a society that still aggressively tries to silence them.
As we do so, we must simultaneously explore who are the people behind the 1.1 million abusive tweets; what segments of the population do they belong to? Who, exactly, are those so terrified of the prospect of having minority women fight for their rights? Should we lean on commonly-held assumptions regarding their identity, or will a data about them reveal a more complicated story? All of these questions should be the subject of further research, without which we could never truly tackle the plague of racism and misogyny.
A new hashtag has popped up in our timelines, and of course, you guessed it, Screen Shot can’t help but dissect it. The hashtag #Instagramtransparency is being used under posts that show a different side to the dreamy beaches, toned abs, sponsored products, and #couplegoals we see across our explore pages.
This new trend is about showing the downs as well as the ups in our lives across the social media channel, and to start an honest conversation about our less glamourous lives off screen. Whether that’s talking about mental health, the reality behind landing some cool jobs for Nike or Adidas, as well as the things ‘no body sees’. #Instagramtransparency is the embodiment of trying to show that what you see on Instagram is not completely genuine—something we all know by now, yet often struggle to digest when the success of others is thrown in our face on an hourly basis.
At the moment, the hashtag has 656 posts after @toriwest sparked the movement earlier this month, with freelancers like @sararradin sharing their thoughts on the subject. The contents across the hashtag don’t all follow one aesthetic, but all sport a confessional description of people’s struggles. In a world where teenagers can’t remember their lives before documenting every social gathering, and where millennials have been able to create jobs from social media, Instagram is essential. We can joke about memes, we can even kid about how much we all wake up to an algorithm but over 1 billion of us log into the app and share much of our lives with strangers, who most of the time believe they know us by what we give them.
The idea behind #Instragramtransparency is to start a conversation beyond the optics—to talk about the hustle and the struggle that lays behind each glistening post. But what happens if even what we’re sharing under the transparency ethos isn’t the whole truth either? Validating #Instagramtransparency also comes into the equation here. To play the devil’s advocate, Instagram has shown us, and through this hashtag too, that the platform equals to a form of scripted reality, so what is it that we’re trying to show through this woke hashtag and how exactly is it a step away from a curated feed?
Regardless of the message you are trying to share through #Instagramtransparency, there’s a reason why influencers are starting to use it. The hashtag humanises the people behind accounts and makes the experience relatable—it’s a way of showing the other side of the story. But I question the smokes and mirrors the hashtag comes with. What feels like a great intention to display authenticity also seems tainted with what Instagram is continuously obsessed with: self-promotion and marketing.
How do we show authenticity to a following that forgets even our username from time to time? Authenticity itself seems to have become marketing jargon when in reality, by definition, it is the opposite of complexity, it is to simply be yourself without filtering the content you post to connect with a certain demographic or awareness trend that month. #Instagramtransparency is a great way to start talking about what happens behind closed doors but we also need to check why we’re now speaking out about the topics we ourselves have biasedly chosen to hide in the first place.
#Instagramtransparency appears to be a way of whitewashing the pretty locations with deeper meaning, but if we are trying to have a go at how fake we can all be sometimes, we also need to step away from sharing only what’s palatable first. If we’re trying to show the plethora of journeys people have to go through to get to where they are and to what they have, it needs to be by a wide host of people, not just influencers. If not, the conversation on Instagram isn’t moving forward, it’s just at standstill.