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Reddit CEO says it’s impossible to police hate speech, and he’s 100% right

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Moderating speech online is a slippery slope, and Reddit’s CEO argues that it’s impossible. Here’s why censorship of hate speech is still so complicated.

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Reddit often gets a bad rap in the media for being a cesspool of offensive language and breeding grounds for extreme, harmful ideas. This is due in part to the company’s refusal to mediate or ban hate speech.

In fact, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman recently stated that it’s not possible for the company to moderate hate speech. Huffman noted that since hate speech can be “difficult to define,” enforcing a ban would be “a nearly impossible precedent to uphold.”

As lazy as that may sound, anyone who has operated massive online groups (as we do) knows this to be unfortunate but true.

Currently, Reddit policy prohibits “content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people […or] that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals.”

Just about anything else is fair game. Sure, subreddit forums have been shut down in the past, but typically as the result of public pressure. Back in 2015, several subreddits were removed, including ones focused on mocking overweight people, transgender folks, and people of color.

However, other equally offensive subreddits didn’t get the axe. Reddit’s logic was that the company received complaints that the now retired subreddits were harassing others on and offline. Offensive posts are permitted, actual harassment is not.

Huffman previously stated, “On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs.” So posting something horribly racist won’t get flagged unless there’s evidence that users crossed the line from free speech to harassing behavior.

Drawing the line between harassment and controversial conversation is where things get tricky for moderators.

Other social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at least make an attempt, though. So what’s holding Reddit back?

Well, for one, moderating hate speech isn’t a clear cut task.

Right now, AI can’t fully take the reins because to truly put a stop to hate speech, there must be an understanding of both language and intent.

Since current AI isn’t quite there yet, Facebook currently employs actual people for the daunting task. The company mostly relies on overseas contractors, which can get pretty expensive (and can lack understanding of cultural contexts).

Users post millions of comments to Reddit per day, and paying real humans to sift through every potentially offensive or harassing post could break the bank.

Most agree that cost isn’t a relevant excuse, though, so Facebook is looking into buying and developing software specializing in natural language processing as an alternative solution. But right now, Reddit does not seem likely to follow in Facebook’s footsteps.

While Facebook sees itself as a place where users should feel safe and comfortable, Reddit’s stance is that all views are welcome, even potentially offensive and hateful ones.

This April in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) a user straight up asked if obvious racism and slurs are against Reddit’s rules.

Huffman responded in part, “the best defense against racism and other repugnant views both on Reddit and in the world, is instead of trying to control what people can and cannot say through rules, is to repudiate these views in a free conversation.”

So essentially, although racism is “not welcome,” it’s also not likely to be banned unless there is associated unacceptable behavior as well.

It’s worth noting that while Reddit as a whole does not remove most hate speech, each subreddit has its own set of rules that may dictate stricter rules. The site essentially operates as an online democracy, with each subreddit “state” afforded the autonomy to enforce differing standards.

Enforcement comes down to moderators, and although some content is clearly hateful, other posts can fall into grey area.

Researches at Berkeley partnered with the Anti-Defamation League recently partnered up to create The Online Hate Index project, an AI program that identifies hate speech. While the program was surprisingly accurate in identifying hate speech, determining intensity of statements was difficult.

Plus, many of the same words are used in hate and non-hate comments. AI and human moderators struggle with defining what crosses the line into hate speech. Not all harmful posts are immediately obvious, and when a forum receives a constant influx of submissions, the volume can be overwhelming for moderators.

While it’s still worth making any effort to foster healthy online communities, until we get a boost to AI’s language processing abilities, complete hate speech moderation may not be possible for large online groups.

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Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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Deepfakes can destroy any reputation, company, or country

(MEDIA) Deepfakes have been around for a few years now, but they’re being crafted for nefarious purposes beyond the original porn and humor uses.

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Deepfakes — a technology originally used by Reddit perverts who wanted to superimpose their favorite actresses’ faces onto the bodies of porn stars – have come a long way since the original Reddit group was banned.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence (AI) to create bogus videos by analyzing facial expressions to replace one person’s face and/or voice with another’s.

Using computer technology to synthesize videos isn’t exactly new.

Remember in Forrest Gump, how Tom Hanks kept popping up in the background of footage of important historical events, and got a laugh from President Kennedy? It wasn’t created using AI, but the end result is the same. In other cases, such technology has been used to complete a film when an actor dies during production.

The difference between these examples and that latest deepfake technology is a question of ease and access.

Historically, these altered videos have required a lot of money, patience, and skill. But as computer intelligence has advanced, so too has deepfake technology.

Now the computer does the work instead of the human, making it relatively fast and easy to create a deepfake video. In fact, Stanford created a technology using a standard PC and web cam, as I reported in 2016.

Nowadays, your average Joe can access open source deepfake apps for free. All you need is some images or video of your victim.

While the technology has mostly been used for fun – such as superimposing Nicolas Cage into classic films – deepfakes could and have been used for nefarious purposes.

There is growing concern that deepfakes could be used for political disruption, for example, to smear a politician’s reputation or influence elections.

Legislators in the House and Senate have requested that intelligence agencies report on the issue. The Department of Defense has already commissioned researchers to teach computers to detect deepfakes.

One promising technology developed at the University of Albany analyzes blinking to detect deep fakes, as subjects in the faked videos usually do not blink as often as real humans do. Ironically, in order to teach computers how to detect them, researchers must first create many deepfake videos. It seems that deepfake creators and detectors are locked in a sort of technological arms race.

The falsified videos have the potential to exacerbate the information wars, either by producing false videos, or by calling into question real ones. People are already all too eager to believe conspiracy theories and fake news as it is, and the insurgence of these faked videos could be created to back up these bogus theories.

Others worry that the existence of deepfake videos could cast doubt on actual, factual videos. Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University says that deepfakes could lead to “deep denials” – in other words, “the ability to dispute previously uncontested evidence.”

While there have not yet been any publicly documented cases of attempts to influence politics with deepfake videos, people have already been harmed by the faked videos.

Women have been specifically targeted. Celebrities and civilians alike have reported that their likeness has been used to create fake sex videos.

Deepfakes prove that just because you can achieve an impressive technological feat doesn’t always mean you should.

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Red flags to look for when hiring a social media pro

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social Media is a growing field with everyone and their moms trying to become social media managers. Here are a few experts’ tips on seeing and avoiding the red flags of social media professionals.

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If you’re thinking about hiring a social media professional – or are one yourself – take some tips from the experts.

We asked a number of entrepreneurs specializing in marketing and social media how they separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to social media managers, and they gave us some hints about how to spot whose social media game is all bark and no bite.

According to our experts, the first thing you should do if you’re hiring a social media professional is to check out their personal and/or professional social media pages.

Candidates with underwhelming, non-existent, out-of-date, or just plain bad social media pages should obviously get the chop.

“If they have no professional social presence themselves, that’s a big red flag,” says Chelle Honiker, CEO at Athenia Creative.

Another entrepreneur, Paul O’Brien of Media Tech Ventures, explains that “the only way to excel is to practice…. If you excel, why would you not be doing so on behalf of your personal brand?”

In other words, if someone can’t make their own social media appealing, how can they be expected to do so for a client?

These pros especially hated seeing outdated icons, infrequent posts, and automatic posts. Worse than outdated social media pages were bad social media pages. Marc Nathan of Miller Egan Molter & Nelson provided a laundry list of negative characteristics that he uses to rule out candidates, including “snarky,” “complaining, unprofessional” “too personal” “inauthentic,” and “argumentative.”

Besides eliminating candidates with poor social media presence, several of these pros also really hated gimmicky job titles such as “guru,” “whiz,” “ninja,” “superhero,” or “magician.”

They were especially turned off by candidates who called themselves “experts” without any proof of their success.

Jeff Fryer of ARM dislikes pros who call themselves experts because, he says “The top leaders in this field will be the first to tell you that they’re always learning– I know I am!” Steer clear of candidates who talk themselves up with ridiculous titles and who can’t provide solid evidence of their expertise.

According to our experts, some of them don’t even try. To candidates who say “’Social media can’t be measured,’” Fryer answer “yes it can[. L]earn how to be a marketer.”

Beth Carpenter, CEO of Violet Hour Social Marketing, complains that many candidates “Can’t talk about ROI (return on investment),” arguing that a good social media pro should be able to show “how social contributes to overall business success.” Good social media pros should show their value in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

While our experts wanted to see numerical evidence of social media success, they were also unimpressed with “vanity metrics” such as numbers of followers.

Many poo-pooed the use of followers alone as an indicator of success, with Tinu Abayomi-Paul of Leveraged Promotion joking that “a trained monkey or spambot” can gather 1,000 followers.

Claims of expertise or success should also be backed up by references and experience in relevant fields.

Several entrepreneurs said that they had come across social media managers without “any experience in critical fields: marketing, advertising, strategic planning and/or writing,” to quote Nancy Schirm of Austin Visuals. She explains that it’s not enough to know how to “handle the technology.” Real social media experts must cultivate “instinct borne from actual experience in persuasive communication.”

So, if you’re an aspiring social media manager, go clean up those pages, get some references, and figure out solid metrics for demonstrating your success.

And if you’re hiring a social media manager, watch out for these red flags to cull your candidate pool.

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Pinterest fights anti-vaxx info, urges Facebook to follow suit

(SOCIAL MEDIA) With misinformation continuing to spread online, Pinterest is putting their foot down and urging other networks to do the same.

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The World Health Organization calls anti-vaxxers one of the top 10 health threats in the world.

Pinterest decided to do something about misinformation being spread by anti-vaxxers. You can no longer search for vaccines on Pinterest and get any information, pro or con about vaccines.

You’ll get a message, “People have reported Pins from this search. Let us know if you see something that goes against our policies.” And “Sorry, we couldn’t find any Pins for this search.”

Pinterest’s policy prohibits “This includes promotion of false cures for terminal or chronic illnesses and anti-vaccination advice.”

Pinterest is disabling search for vaccines while it finds a better solution to allow material that is appropriate. Users should report pins that are against Pinterest’s policy.

There are ways to get around the general search terms. Type in measles. Fortunately, many of the pins are helpful and promote ways to avoid the measles, namely vaccines. With tons of search variations, there’s almost no way to prevent all misinformation.

The company has publicly urged other social networks to join them in this effort to combat anti-vaxx misinformation. But will they follow suit?

Search Google for the measles vaccine and the search engine provides good information for the most part. The first 10 results when I searched were from legitimate sites, the CDC, WebMD, vaccines.gov and the Mayo Clinic. On Facebook, it’s far less clear if the results from a search are coming from authentic, legitimate sites or anti-vaxxers.

CNBC reports that Pinterest’s ban on vaccines and its determination to stop the spread of misinformation pertaining to public health could put pressure on other companies to do the same. Bloomberg reported that Facebook is “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem.”

Tech companies do have an obligation to provide quality information. But given the problems with fake news on Facebook, I think it’s safe to say that no matter what these companies do, people are going to try and continue to find ways to share bad information.

It’s easy to be deceptive on Facebook and other social media sites. Many people continue to be fooled by fake news posts and phishing emails.

Does Pinterest’s move constitute responsibility or is it censorship that could be a slippery slope? Time will tell.

For now, question everything. Use your critical thinking skills to verify information. Maybe someone will come up with a solution to stop online hoaxes, but then the hoaxers will just find new ways to bend the rules.

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