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Twitter gets the message wrong on hate

November 24, 2016 23:20

As readers might know, I have commissioned an all-party parliamentary inquiry into the antisemitism that emanated from the Middle-East conflict, and which led to an unprecedented rise of incidents this summer.

According to the Community Security Trust, some 25 per cent of the incidents that occurred, manifested on social media.

When I met the key social media companies in California in September I was given the impression that they would take action. Sadly, my recent experiences both as a service-user and as a lawmaker have left me underwhelmed and in some cases exasperated.

But our meeting with Facebook at its Dublin headquarters this week restored some hope. It had been organised before the abuse of Luciana Berger and myself, but the Facebook team were happy to discuss specifics and general principles.

They were, crucially, keen to listen to feedback. From their initial position some years ago of seeing only direct harm as a matter of concern, they now see the importance of tackling bullying, promoting counter-speech and empowering users to report cyber hate.

Not all their systems are perfect. Far from it. They need to improve their procedures for seeking out abuse and must better explain their actions or inaction on particular web pages with reference to their terms of service. As has become clear this week, in relation to the Lee Rigby murder, they are woefully behind the curve on addressing serious abuse of their platform.

Our next meeting was with Twitter, where the attitude we encountered was very different to the openness of the Facebook employees. It was churlish, belligerent and illogical. They laughably cited their near-decade of work as a significant disadvantage compared to Facebook's much longer experience.

They held the unprecedented position of refusing to discuss specific cases, even though the specific case in question related to me and I was in the room. Rather, we were forced into debating high-level policy positions without the use of examples.

Twitter relies on the outdated model of looking at direct harm to users as the central issue seemingly without addressing cyber-hate in the round.

Moreover, the details they provided to us at a previous meeting in Westminster and those in Dublin differed, particularly in reference to how they deal with police requests for data - something we know the police are frustrated with.

The real-world consequences of failing to adopt a proactive stance are clear. Taxpayers are bearing the burden of these companies' failure to act appropriate The police and security services have had to expend unprecedented effort on protecting the victims of hate resulting from social media.

As I made clear to the Prime Minister this week, I think we need to force the hand of those companies unwilling to act. If we can do it for child protection, we can, should and must be able to take action against race-hate online. The internet companies must face up to the fact that they are controllers, not simply processors of information.

We will continue to press Twitter and others to make it simpler for victims of abuse to report hate, and, more crucially, to act on advice of anti-racism experts like the CST.

And we will ensure that they are held to account when they fail to act.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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