the real reason why hate continues to flourish on social media

What's holding the tech giants back from addressing racists and bigots trying to overrun their platforms isn't the limits of their technology. It's fear.

angry senior screaming

A common refrain is that problematic content can’t be policed on social media because there are so many gray areas. To an extent, this is true, and if you want to get a handle on content you don’t necessarily want on your platform, you’ll need to turn to relatively sophisticated AI algorithms and have a very complicated discussion on what to do with the content it flags. At the same time, tech companies can use a slightly less discriminate approach, fighting racism and hate with keywords and phrase filters which quickly catch on to users employing hateful language or dog whistles, quickly quarantining them and cutting off their digital oxygen. That’s exactly how Twitter stamped out massively popular and quickly growing ISIS accounts.

Yes, the users who run afoul of this system can switch their code words, and they already do just that when the “normies” catch on. But with automated systems doing so within days, if not hours, based on pattern and context recognition, having to learn a new vocabulary every day to rail against the people you hate will just be too frustrating for many. They’ll retreat to Gab, and Voat, and 4Chan, and 8Chan, where they can lament how difficult it is to do the online version of standing in the street corner in a Klan robe while screaming racial slurs and demanding we form a fascist ethnostate so they don’t have to see a brown person at the same store or hear an immigrant say something in a language they don’t understand.

But if the solution is technically feasible, why is no one implementing it? Turns out that the answer is both simple and disturbing. Trying to clean up white supremacism would also ban numerous GOP politicians. These are the same politicians who summoned tech execs to the Hill and demanded they explain how search engines dare to return negative articles about them, and the same ones who threatened to force social media platforms to cram their conspiracy theories down users’ throats. And if you think these politicians will take the fact that computers can’t tell the difference between them and neo-Nazis with the fourteen words in their Twitter bios as a sign that maybe, just maybe, they need to rethink their platforms, you’re a soul far too innocent and pure for these dark times.

Far from realizing the error of their ways, they’ll once again erupt with rage that the Hulk would consider excessive and barge on every talk show to (maybe quite literally) pound the table and hysterically screech that we must tolerate their intolerance by law, with a heaping helping of vile conspiracy theories even Alex Jones would find unseemly. So in case you’re wondering why the web giants with billions in the bank and tens of thousands engineers with advanced comp sci degrees at their beck and call can’t seem to figure out how to crack down on bigotry which grows more and more virulent and violent by the day on their platforms, the truth is that they can. They’re just too afraid of the American right and its only reaction to anything these days: visceral, unhinged rage.

# tech // algorithms / realpolitik / social media


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