Twitter finally draws a line on extremism

Twitter finally draws a line on extremism

August 14, 2018 0 By Nazmul Khan


On Friday I wrote about Twitter’s seeming paralysis when it came to enforcing its platform rules. What, exactly, was going on over there? Late Friday evening, we got an answer of sorts. The company invited Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger of The New York Times to sit in on a meeting in which CEO Jack Dorsey and 18 of his colleagues debated safety policies. The meeting was rather … inconclusive, they report:

For about an hour, the group tried to get a handle on what constituted dehumanizing speech. At one point, Mr. Dorsey wondered if there was a technology solution. There was no agreement on an answer.

Elsewhere in the piece, executives sound other notes we’ve heard before from this and other platforms: Free speech is valuable. Moderation issues are difficult. User safety is important. Ultimately, Twitter seemed to double down on delayed action, agreeing “to draft a policy about dehumanizing speech and open it to the public for their comments.” (Is Twitter really lacking for public speech on this subject?)

Of course, policies are only meaningful insofar as they are enforced. Dorsey’s stated rationale for keeping Alex Jones and Infowar on Twitter is that Jones had not violated the site’s rules. CNN’s Oliver Darcy demolished that rationale with a single Twitter search.

Late Friday, Twitter copped to it, saying Jones had in fact violated its rules at least seven times. Five were posted before Twitter adopted more stringent behavior guidelines, but two of them were posted “recently enough that Twitter could cite them in the future to take additional punitive action against Jones’ accounts,” Darcy reported.

A seven-strikes-and-you’re-still-in approach to dehumanizing speech would seem to encourage more of it. Twitter’s shifting explanations, coupled with theatrical “transparency,” inspire little confidence. The company declines to enforce its rules, then invites journalists in to watch it agonize over the bind it’s gotten itself into. It feels absurd.

Surprisingly, the company later did draw a line against hate speech, though not against the practitioner we expected. Ryan Mac and Blake Montgomery broke the news that Twitter had suspended several accounts associated with the Proud Boys, a right-wing group that attended last year’s Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, ahead of this year’s gathering.

The group violated Twitter’s policies against “violent extremist groups,” Twitter said. BuzzFeed reported that the Proud Boys have attended several rallies that have turned violent. That included a recent one in Portland. So far, Facebook hasn’t followed suit — despite the fact that the Proud Boys do their primary recruiting there, according to this helpful piece from Taylor Hatmaker.

Meanwhile, the mother of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim says Alex Jones and Infowars continue to inspire threats against her. “If there are clear threatening actions and harassment that continues from Jones and Infowars, and then Twitter doesn’t take action, well yeah, people need to understand that there are consequences for actions as well as inactions,” Nicole Hockley, who is suing Jones, told Remy Smidt.

The consequences of inaction often seem to be the thing that Twitter understands the least.

Democracy

Can Society Scale?

Jonah Engel Bromwich examines the story of a popular Facebook group, known as New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens, which fractured into more than 100 splinter organizations (Social Urbanist Memes for Anarchist Communist Teens, Amchad Memes for American Rail Apologist Teens, etc.) amid political rancor. (The title question is not really answered to my satisfaction!)

“When everything was smaller, we all loved it more,” she said. Though she could not define an absolute threshold, she said that once a group gets beyond, 1,000, 2,000 or even 5,000 members, “things start getting chaotic.”

An 11-Year-Old Changed The Results Of Florida’s Presidential Vote At A Hacker Convention. Discuss.

Earlier this month I told you about the children who would attempt to hack our elections for good. Kevin Collier attended the event in Las Vegas this weekend. Gulp:

In a room set aside for kid hackers, an 11-year-old girl hacked a replica of the Florida secretary of state’s website within 10 minutes — and changed the results.

Russian Hackers Targeted Swedish News Sites In 2016, State Department Cable Says

It wasn’t just the United States that Russia went after in 2016. According to a State Department cable, the Swedish attack was part of a Russian campaign to sow disinformation about NATO, Kevin Collier and Jason Leopold report:

Sent Oct. 19, 2016, primarily to US ambassadors in Europe, it detailed US intelligence suspicions about Russian meddling in US the presidential election.

It also warned that Russia was engaged in a widespread campaign to destabilize NATO alliances that included not only a disinformation campaign but the crippling cyberattacks against Swedish news organizations, which knocked several of the country’s largest news organizations offline.

‘It’s our time to serve the Motherland’: How Russia’s war in Georgia sparked Moscow’s modern-day recruitment of criminal hackers

Meduza looks at how Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia led it to recruit hackers who would eventually attack the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US elections.

Ruslan Stoyanov, the former head of Kaspersky Lab’s investigations department who’s worked extensively with the FSB, has warned openly that Russia is flirting with disaster by cooperating so closely with criminal hackers. “There’s an enormous temptation for the ‘decision makers’ to use Russian cybercrime’s ready-made solutions to influence geopolitics,” Stoyanov wrote in an open letter. He’s been in pretrial detention since January 2017, facing treason charges. “The most terrifying scenario is one where cyber-criminals are granted immunity from retaliation for stealing money in other countries in exchange for [hacked] intelligence. If this happens, a whole class of ‘patriotic thieves’ will emerge, and semi-legal ‘patriot groups’ can invest their stolen capital fаr more openly in the creation of more sophisticated Trojan programs, and Russia will end up with the most advanced cyber-weapons.”

Meduza’s sources say the Russian authorities have been relying on intelligence gathered by these “patriotic groups” for at least a decade.

Vimeo is the latest platform to remove content from InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Jones had turned to Vimeo after getting kicked off YouTube, uploading more than 50 videos on Thursday and Friday.

Elsewhere

Online activists hit hatemongers like Alex Jones where it hurts the most — in the wallet

Margaret Sullivan profiles Sleeping Giants, a San Francisco-based Twitter account that tries to shame advertisers into abandoning controversial programming. This playbook is the new normal, Sullivan writes:

it’s not hard to imagine similar techniques being used in ways that hurt media organizations or personalities who have done nothing worse than be provocative, as was the case with Gawker.

In an era where bad faith rules the day in so many realms, the techniques used by Sleeping Giants are both powerful and potentially dangerous.

Facebook’s message to media: “We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic…That is the old world and there is no going back”

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a politician tells a truth she wasn’t meant to say. Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, may or may not have done that recently in Australia — she denies saying the exact quotes attributed to her here — but the message was is enough. Facebook really isn’t turning on its traffic firehose again.

Facebook buys Vidpresso’s team and tech to make video interactive

Vidpresso “works with TV broadcasters and content publishers to make their online videos more interactive with on-screen social media polling and comments, graphics, and live broadcasting integrated with Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, and more,” Josh Constine reports.

Back-to-school shopping for kids involves Amazon wishlists and Snapchat filters

Nearly half of 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphones, and marketers are finding them at ever-younger ages:

“Snapchat and YouTube have become a way for brands to market right to tweens — in fact, it’s one of the only ways to get to them directly,” said Gregg L. Witt, executive vice president of youth marketing for Motivate, an advertising firm in San Diego. “If you’re trying to target a specific demographic, TV no longer works. You’re going to mobile, digital, social media.”

Launches

Twitter Lite in the Google Play Store: now available in 45+ countries

Twitter Lite is now available in the Google Play Store in more than 45 countries around the world. It’s everything you love about Twitter, except it minimizes Nazis. I’m sorry, did I say Nazis? I meant data usage.

Takes

Twitter and Facebook Are Platforms, Not Publishers

Jeff Jarvis, whose work is funded in part by Facebook grants, says recent media coverage of social networks reflects an incipient “moral panic” and that a small number of malignant trolls on the platforms simply represent “the messy sound of democracy.” Jarvis has long been useful to the platforms because he is a former journalist (and TV Guide Cheers ‘n’ Jeers columnist) who tends to blame the media first. Anyway, here is a take that takes them off the hook so that the media can take the blame for society’s ills:

Those of us in media must acknowledge our responsibility for the messes we’ve made. Long before the net, media played a key role in polarizing the nation into red versus blue, black versus white, 99 percent versus 1 percent. CNN earned its money in conflict rather than resolution. Fox News has done more damage to American democracy than the internet. It was the media’s primary business model, built on volume and attention, that led to the clickbait that is the ruin of the net. Media and platforms as well as advertisers need to work together to build new business models based on value, on relationships, on accomplishment, on quality, on openness.

And finally …

Kevin Roose had me at “Mark Zuckerberg protest song.” The video is helpfully captioned so you don’t even have to listen to the words or the music.

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions, or dehumanizing speech policies: casey@theverge.com



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