Will Twitter be able to control hate speech during the World Cup?


Last year, Twitter rushed to remove racist tweets targeting three black players blamed for England’s Euro 2020 soccer championship defeat, prompting world leaders and activists to accuse social media of fueling idolatry.

Hate speech advocates warn that racism on Twitter could worsen during this year’s World Cup as the social media giant struggles with a mass exodus of employees and new owner Elon Musk’s leadership style.

Even before Musk cut half of Twitter’s staff, his purchase of Twitter opened the door to a flood of racist and anti-Semitic trolls seeking to test Twitter’s content moderation practices under a new owner who has pledged to support free speech. Twitter has few staff to deal with tweets that break the rules, hyperbole hashtags that spread rapidly, or misinformation targeting football matches.

After Musk pushed hundreds of employees to leave the company, many teams of engineers who are critical to keeping the site running are left with few or no employees.

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“It will be a moment when people around the world will see their beloved footballers drawn to the fact that their entire nation is suddenly open to the most ferocious. violence on a platform with an appalling history of enforcing its anti-racism rules,” said Imran Ahmed, executive director of the Digital Hate Center.

The World Cup, which will feature teams from 32 countries in Qatar, is likely to attract more attention as Musk seeks to balance his support for free speech on Twitter with an interest in appeasing civil rights activists and advertisers. the platform will be suppressed by offensive content. On Friday, Musk inspired His 116 million followers took to Twitter for “the best coverage and real-time commentary” of Sunday’s first game.

With millions of soccer fans watching the game and commenting on social media at the same time, Twitter and other social media companies will be forced to make tough calls about which posts to remove or leave in real time, experts say. Analysts say the World Cup could pose a particular challenge for policing platforms, along with the sheer number of games over the next few weeks, as well as the extensive linguistic and cultural knowledge needed to make content moderation decisions.

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Other analysts have pointed out that racial and ethnic tensions could be heightened during the Games, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a rise in anti-refugee rhetoric in Eastern Europe.

Twitter, whose communications team has been largely disrupted by layoffs, did not respond to requests for comment on its World Cup plans. Twitter CEO Ella Irwin, who was recently appointed as the new head of the company’s trust and security team, tweeted this week that employees have been preparing for the World Cup for several weeks.

“Providing a healthy platform remains our top priority,” he tweeted.

Musk spoke last Friday and promised to curb the spread of racist tweets. “Twitter’s new policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” he tweeted. “Negative/hateful tweets will be deleted and monetized to the maximum extent possible, so Twitter will not receive any advertising or other revenue. You won’t find tweets unless you’re specifically looking for them, it’s no different than the rest of the internet.”

Since Musk took over Twitter, civil society organizations and civil rights activists have increasingly pressed the new tech CEO to be more aggressive in his pledge to fight misleading and hateful content on the platform and to maintain staffing levels needed to enforce the platform’s rules. .

Kick it Out, an anti-discrimination organization that works with football organizations, published an open letter to Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this week, asking them to take bolder action to stop cyberbullying. Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said in an interview that Musk’s view of free speech as an excuse for some users to spread hate online could cause more problems as Twitter’s content moderation team shrinks.

“Some people heard it was a dog whistle for racism and hate,” he said. “When these factors come together, it’s a toxic cocktail, and we fear going into the World Cup.”

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On Tuesday, more than 40 civil society groups urged Musk in a letter to invest in “decent global resources” to stem the spread of hateful, misleading and violent content. The Global Coalition Against Digital Hate and Extremism says Twitter does not do enough to protect public discourse in countries outside the United States and the European Union, which has fueled the spread of misinformation, hate and violent extremism online. around the world.”

The letter comes after a coalition of more than 60 civil rights groups called on the company to freeze its marketing spending on Twitter in protest of Musk’s decision to cut thousands of jobs. platform.

Seeking to address advertisers’ concerns, Musk reiterated that the company has made no changes to its content moderation policy, which prohibits promoting violence or attacking users based on their race, sexuality, religion or other sensitive characteristics.

But even before Musk took over, Twitter and other social media companies had a mixed history of dealing with racism directed at football players, particularly black athletes. After England’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy last year, trolls and angry fans hurled racial slurs at three of the team’s black players, posting monkey and banana emojis and other vulgar comments under pictures of the players on their personal Instagram accounts. is

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the violence, and social media companies announced new efforts to combat racism on their networks. Instagram said at the time that it was working with UK law enforcement to add tougher penalties to accounts found to have sent discriminatory messages in private chats. Twitter deleted almost 2,000 tweets in the days after the final and said it was working to improve its detection of racist abuse online.

Since then, social media has continued to target soccer players with hate speech, activists said. FIFA, the international governing body that oversees the World Cup, said in a report earlier this year that more than 55 percent of players at the 2020 European Championship and 2022 African Cup of Nations had experienced some form of discrimination. Abuse on Twitter or Instagram was mostly homophobic and racist. More than half of those posts were still live on the platform in April, the report said.

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“I think it shows that sport can have such emotions and such reactions,” said Rafal Pankowski, who works with the Polish anti-racism group Never Again and advises soccer groups. “It used to be similar, but people could scream at the TV. Now with the help of Twitter, they have the means to raise…[racism] Globally, there is no mechanism to combat this.”

To combat the violence, FIFA said it would give players in Qatar access to a monitoring service that filters out hate speech.

Musk’s chaotic start to his tenure at Twitter has some activists worried the problem could get worse. Within hours of Musk taking over, dozens of anonymous trolls took to Twitter to spew racial slurs and Nazi memes.

“Elon claims he hasn’t changed the rules now, but he’s definitely sent a signal to every racist out there that says, ‘we’re open for business,'” Ahmed said.

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Musk, meanwhile, cut about 50 percent of the company’s workforce earlier this month and cut Twitter’s leadership team, a key part of the company’s efforts to direct users to reliable news sources and curb viral hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Tech publication Rest of World reported last week that Twitter has laid off a significant portion of its international team in India, Africa and Latin America. Yoel Roth, the company’s head of regulation and security, resigned last week after reassuring users and advertisers about Twitter’s policies.

“When those teams are replaced, we don’t know if they will take enough measures and enough measures to prevent hateful content around the World Cup,” Pinar Yıldırım of Wharton said. professor of media and technology studies.


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