Twitter’s Nazi problem has been growing steadily for some time now. White nationalism and other forms of bigotry are pervasive on the platform, which has become a breeding ground for radicalization.
The question that keeps being asked, then, is why won’t Twitter just ban vocal white supremacists from the site? The site has largely eradicated ISIS-related propaganda, so why not this sort of domestic terrorist propaganda as well? According to a new report from Motherboard based on information from a company meeting at Twitter last month, the reason has to do with the potential “collateral” from such a decision. To ban white nationalism would require the work of an algorithm designed to root out their language. But such algorithms aren’t exact and would inevitably take down white nationalist-lite or adjacent accounts as well.
Motherboard cites the explanation of a Twitter employee focusing on machine learning and AI issues from that meeting, writing, “With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.”
But the “innocent” accounts that may be targeted by a crackdown on white supremacist language aren’t just media broadcasters or regular folks who dabble in racist language. According to that employee, as Motherboard reports, “Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.”
This hasn’t been verified by Twitter and in fact, they’ve denied that this is their official moderation policy. But “The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.”
There it is: Twitter employee admits that algorithms can’t distinguish between Republicans and white supremacists. https://t.co/Ivo0Cz2LaA
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) April 25, 2019
to repeat this: twitter won’t ban the nazis because the filter will catch some republicans if it looks for white supremacy https://t.co/JqGOqbsa66
— gamer wife (@bijanstephen) April 25, 2019
“We can’t get rids of Nazis because it would mean getting rid of some Republicans” is a hell of an argument.https://t.co/DMRXZQbzGo
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) April 25, 2019
It’s not surprising to hear that Twitter might be concerned about accidentally lumping Republican officials in with white supremacists. A whole lot of Republicans sound like white supremacists. The incredibly and perpetually racist Rep. Steve King comes to mind (here’s a refresher if you need it) but he’s in no way alone in his party. If we were relying on an algorithm to purge white nationalist language from Twitter, more than a few Republicans would be affected, not the least of which would be Donald Trump himself.
Yet the Republican Party and other right-wing figures have been shockingly effective in scaring Twitter away from condemning them. There have been multiple Congressional hearings over this nonexistent conservative censorship. They yell about shadowbanning and liberal bias and they’ve made it so that any actual action taken against white supremacy online–which would disproportionately affect white conservatives–would be seen as a partisan attack on Republicans.
If Republicans can’t tell the difference between an attack on their politics and an attack on bigotry and domestic terrorism, well, maybe that’s a sign that they need to stop and reflect on their choices.
This is what conservatives playing the refs results in: a different, more permissive set of rules for them.
Twitter is so afraid of upsetting @ MAGAmerican1776Freedom or whatever that they’d rather just let extremist groups grow. Cowards. https://t.co/PFjj8gJPOy
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) April 25, 2019
Also, if your own beliefs and actions can’t be easily distinguished from white nationalists, maybe just… a bit of introspection is due pic.twitter.com/9GmUoYsYLf
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) April 25, 2019
(image: PIXXart / Shutterstock.com)
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