Twitter Hires Academic ‘Experts’ To Combat Anti-Islam, Conservative Posts

Kyle Perisic | Contributor
  • Twitter is creating two task forces led be academics to study user behavior, remove right-wing populist content and promote content those users might not agree with
  • The social media giant has come under fire recently for shadow banning conservatives
  • The company’s shares dropped over 19 percent Friday due to lower daily and monthly active users, likely a result of its practices

Twitter has hired a group of academics to combat what it describes as “abuse, harassment and other types of behaviors that can detract or distort from the public conversation.”

The social media giant created two teams comprised of academia to censor speech it does not want on the site. The academics have a history studying right-wing populism, diversity and Islam, Metro U.K. reported Monday.

Despite allegations it already does too much to combat “hate speech” and censors conservatives — possibly resulting in less users on the platform and therefore the staggering 19 percent drop in shares on Friday — Twitter has moved forward in censoring more content.

“Earlier this year, as part of our global health initiative, we committed to serving the public conversation and working to increase the collective health, openness, and civility of the dialogue on our service,” wrote the legal, policy, and trust and safety lead at Twitter, Vijaya Gadde. “We want everyone’s experience on Twitter to be free of abuse, harassment and other types of behaviors that can detract or distort from the public conversation.”

Gadde added: “Work has been underway for months to make progress in these areas, such as making changes so you can be confident in your follower counts, introducing new signals into how we present and organize Tweets, sharing more on our expanded efforts to fight malicious automation, and acquiring Smyte to address safety, spam, and security challenges more quickly and effectively.”

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Leiden University in Netherlands Rebekah Tromble will be leading a group that will be “examining echo chambers and uncivil discourse,” Metro U.K. reported.

“In the context of growing political polarization, the spread of misinformation, and increases in incivility and intolerance, it is clear that if we are going to effectively evaluate and address some of the most difficult challenges arising on social media, academic researchers and tech companies will need to work together much more closely,” said Tromble. “This initiative presents an important and promising opportunity for Twitter and our team of researchers to share expertise and work on solutions together.”

Professors Miles Hewstone and John Gallacher of the University of Oxford, along with Marc Heerdink of the University of Amsterdam will led the other team, which aims to study how people use Twitter and expose them to other Twitter accounts, with the intention of decreasing bias.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to work with Twitter on investigating the important social challenges of a digitally connected world,” said Hewstone, a professor of social psychology at Oxford. “Evidence from social psychology has shown how communication between people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways to decrease prejudice and discrimination. We’re aiming to investigate how this understanding can be used to measure the health of conversations on Twitter, and whether the effects of positive online interaction carry across to the offline world.”

Twitter has come under public scrutiny from conservatives the past week for allegations it’s shadow banning conservatives. Shadow banning is making content or users more difficult to find using algorithms, rather than banning or deleting content, giving the impression that it treats all content and users the same.

Recently conservatives have been effectively shadow banned on Twitter by removing their names, no matter how popular they might be, from immediate drop down search results.

Other forms of shadow banning include not only making users more difficult to find, but also by making it seem like some tweets don’t exist at all for some users. (RELATED: Nunes: Legal Action A Possibility Against Twitter For Censoring Conservatives)

In one example, a somewhat popular Twitter user, @SuperNerdCow, recorded evidence in a video on February 2017 that a post appeared to his followers as having been deleted. The tweet was in fact still viewable on the users’ own timeline — making it seem like others could still see the post, even when the post’s views dropped sharply.

@SuperNerdCow’s account was suspended a month after making the video and it’s not clear if the two events are related.

President Donald Trump blasted Twitter for the practice and said he would “look into this discriminatory and illegal practice.”

“Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints,” the president tweeted on July 26.

Twitter, for its part, denies the shadow banning allegations. The company wrote in a blog post after Trump’s tweet that dismissed the notion of shadow banning, but admitted that its algorithms made it more difficult to find certain users.

“We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile),” the company wrote. “And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”

The backlash to Twitter’s recent criticism has likely resulted in the drop in the average daily and monthly active users, and therefore the 19 percent drop in shares it saw Friday.

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KylePerisic

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