What do we do about the haters?

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What do we do about the haters?
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Germany has recently made agreements with social media companies to ensure the quick removal of hate speech on their platforms. The European Commission, Israel, and Bangladesh have all done the same. These agreements lack judicial or independent oversight and rely on multinational corporations to make determinations as to what constitutes hateful or illegal speech. But in a time when hateful speech and polarization in politics is globally at a high, what do we do about the haters?
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we all know that hate speech is a huge problem online but we don't really necessarily agree on what hate speech is same goes for harassment same goes for violent extremism a lot of the topics that were trying to tackle or trying to deal with on the Internet we're not actually defining ahead of time and so what we've ended up with is a system whereby both companies and governments alike are working sometimes separately sometimes together to rid the Internet of these topics of these discussions without actually delving into what they are so I work on a project called online censorship torgue and what we do is look at the ways in which social media
companies are restricting speech now you could argue that not all of this is censorship and I might agree we look at everything from as you may have seen
last year the censorship of nudity which I firmly believe is censorship two takedowns around harassment hate speech and violent extremism some of which border the line between incitement and potentially lawful speech in certain jurisdictions so I looked at the different definitions of hate speech that the major social media platforms give Twitter for example says that you may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race ethnicity etc etc all of the different categories that you
might imagine it's very similar categories to before so we know that these these companies these places where we you know where most of our speech takes place and earn spaces online we know that they're already committed or at least they say so to take him down or regulating that kind of content but governments haven't necessarily agreed and I think Kirsten spoke about this a bit earlier today governments have felt that what the company enough and so last year we saw the German government at the end of last year form an agreement with the companies to take down hate speech by getting them to remove it within 24 hours of being reported so essentially how this works is you already have these flagging mechanisms that exist on facebook when I report content I can report it as there's a number of different categories and it actually is quite granular I just looked when it comes to hate speech but then the German
government wanted them to go step further and make sure that they're doing it within 24 hours we're talking about 1.6 billion users content moderators of some number we don't actually know how many people are employed by these companies to look at those numbers and hopefully we'll have more transparency about that soon fingers crossed but essentially they're asking for a 24-hour turnaround for all of this this 1.6 billion users this is almost impossible and it's not just Germany we saw the
European Commission of course which I think was discussed earlier as well as more recently a potential agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook to deal with incitement now that one's less clear there's some denial as to whether or not there is in fact an agreement but it remains to be seen what kind of contents taken down so far however I would note that within the past two weeks since this went public we've seen two editors of popular Palestinian publications censored by Facebook for reasons unknown Facebook apologized said it was a mistake but nevertheless whenever there's that additional scrutiny put on a certain category of people or a certain geographic location you're bound to see
more erroneous takedowns as i like to call them and so then what do we do about this because if the government's feel that the companies aren't doing enough and we as society have no input into that then essentially what we're seeing is this quick reactionary attempt to you know like like I said before get rid of all of the content without actually assessing what we're looking at what is it that we're talking about and I think that that's the first step is that we haven't agreed on a definition
of hate speech my vision of it might be different from yours as we've seen by different government's vision is different and so if we want a free and open Internet I'm not saying that we shouldn't tackle hate speech I should absolutely tackle hateful speech but if we want a free and open Internet where we all have equal access and equal opportunity then this additional
fragmentation that we're seeing through these different privatized agreements is not the way forward and so first we need to find a definition that actually works for us before we even talk about what to do about the speech itself and then of course voluntary back to our agreements between governments that we've elected democratically in all of the examples that I've given so far we've also seen some less democratic governments try to strike deals with companies and that's another you know precedent that we might be setting with these but regardless
they deny us input and by us I mean citizen I mean citizens of both our countries and of the Internet citizens of these platforms in so far as you can make that argument but we have no input into this we're not part of these conversations not only have you no civil society groups NGO has been excluded from the actual table where these agreements are being decided but the average user has no actual say in how these spaces are governed and so I'm not going to talk about nudity this year and I've talked about it the past two years but I will throw it in there is an example that I think it's really interesting that companies have just decided for us that this is an unacceptable thing other reasons might be valid it might be really difficult for them to tackle the
difference between pornography and nudity there are all sorts of technical reasons why that might be a really hard question and I respect that but they've already made the decision to go beyond the law there how do we know they're not doing that in this case too and then I would also go a step further and say that censorship alone doesn't actually
solve the problem of hateful hateful speech it doesn't and I'll give you a couple examples i was in budapest a couple years ago just walking around in the summer and this was in the middle of the debate in the United States around the Confederate flag and so for those who might not be as familiar the Confederate flag was of course the flag of the separatists south and has now become largely known as a well at least where I'm from it's known as a hateful racist symbol and a lot of the south of the country it's a symbol of pride for the Confederacy but nevertheless it's pretty known for what that is but when I see it internationally in another context my reaction is oh maybe they're
just you know trying for some Americana and so I saw this and I don't know how good that picture is but I saw this
military shop in budapest and i saw the confederate flag and i thought oh well maybe it's just like a army navy store so i posted on twitter and i asked some friends in the country and they were like no no that's a Nazi symbol I wouldn't have known that because what happens when you censor some symbols the other ones crop up in their place and
we're starting to see that on twitter and facebook now with secret codes to avoid censorship i'm not going to get into the actual definitions but if you look at this article essentially you've got really far right right wing communities online that are using innocent words like Google skittle and skype as substitutions for racist words and so this happens when we see this in China to get around censorship there in more positive contexts but it's an only a matter of time if companies are building in algorithmic methods to filter or censor speech it's only a matter of time before people just come up with new substitutes that's how people have always gotten around censorship I don't see how that will you know not continue but then lastly I
would also say that censorship isn't the
solution to hateful speech it might be a solution it may be a component of the solution I don't know that's something for democratic processes to decide but it doesn't solve the problem to solve the problem we have to get at the root causes of it and this is why I find this title for this talk really challenging because I'm not the expert on how we deal with hateful hateful communities and hateful speech and and all of the the right-wing groups that are cropping up in my country and yours but I do know that we should be looking somewhere else and I think we're asking some of the wrong questions as to the origins of this and I'll just flip through these real quick to note all of these are people who are verified on Twitter and
who engage in hateful speech on a regular basis these are our leaders these are the people that we should be asking the question how do we get rid of hateful speech it's not necessarily let's just strike it from the record it's let's get to the root cause and then we can talk about what we do with it on our online communities so thank
you and yeah thank you for having