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Why Twitter and Facebook's Anti-Harassment Strategies Won't Stop the Trolls

December 23, 2017 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

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By trying to make things better, social media platforms may be making things worse.

There’s a good chance that if you regularly spend time on the internet (and who doesn’t these days?), you may have been harassed. The Pew Research Center says 41% of Americans have been harassed online in some way, and about one in five people have been seriously harassed, like receiving “physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.” And women are nearly twice as likely to say they’ve reported severe harassment online—frequently on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Entire internal task forces have been created to monitor and police the platforms, and they’ve repeatedly insisted that tackling this issue is a major priority.

But a recent study shows that as they attempt to quell hateful behavior on their platforms, Twitter and Facebook may actually be making thing worse.

They do try. If a woman encounters a troll on Facebook who makes incessant, lewd comments about her appearance, for example, she can follow the site’s instructions for reporting that user. The site will respond with a few scripted statements, programmed by a bot to classify her experience into one of a few categories. Then her complaint will disappear into the void, unlikely to garner a personalized response. With over a billion people on Facebook, it would be impossible to respond to every instance of harassment.

The study, from researchers at the University of Michigan School of Information and Sassafras Tech Collective, “finds that users of popular social media platforms—such as Facebook and Twitter—are frustrated when their harassment experiences aren’t taken seriously, especially when major companies rely on scripted responses that do not acknowledge individual experiences or the impacts of harassment, which include personal or professional …read more


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