Policing themselves? Hate-speech watchdog ADL enlists Facebook and others

SAN FRANCISCO (RNS) – Tech conferences happen daily in this tasteful Baghdad by the Bay – as metropolis is also fondly known – and its own sleeker, shinier Silicon Valley sister to the south.

But a conference held here this week veered from the usual “approach fast and break things” motto of the tech industry from what might be called an effort to “slow down and fix things.”

That effort, an initiative called the Center for Technology and Society, will combine anti-bias activists and leaders from Facebook, Twitter and additional heavy hitters of high-tech to combat hate speech online.

“Too often, when we try to be the very best, the first, the most effective, we fail,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told a crowd of about 600 people attending its “Never IS CURRENTLY” conference on Monday (Nov. 13). “Whenever we race toward our near future, sometimes we resign responsibility.”

“Fail” is a expression many critics have aimed at tech giants when seeking at their initiatives to hold hate off their systems. They say the social media companies do not do enough to ensure hatemongers such as Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who was simply repeatedly invoked at the daylong conference, and Andrew Anglin, an alt-right provocateur, don’t use the companies’ global reach to spread their white supremacist slurry.

Exhibit one – referred to as out from both the conference’s main level and its own intimate breakout sessions – was that white colored supremacists utilized Facebook and other community media platforms to arrange their “Unite the proper” rally found in Charlottesville, Va., in August. The rally led to the killing of Heather D. Heyer, an anti-hate activist who was simply struck by an automobile influenced by a neo-Nazi.

The Center for Technology and World can be an attempt to prevent might be found later on. Its creation was released at 2016’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, though it was officially released this week in San Francisco.

The center provides representatives from Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat and the Silicon Valley venture capitalists who nurture them as well as scholars, journalists, activists and philanthropists to build up ways tech can police itself and counter hate.

“We are not merely engaging the lawyers and policy gurus, we are attracting the engineers,” Brittan Heller, ADL’s director of the brand new center, said throughout a conference break. “I think what we are experiencing now is that the companies understand that it is going to take a unified front over the industry if they are going to effectively stem the tide.”

Among its first projects is a study of anti-Semitic speech against journalists, which led to recommendations for tech companies in how to prevent that, and a “game jam” that enlisted video game aficionados in creating games with an anti-bias message.

Tech companies have recently stepped up their initiatives against extremism. In June, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft formed the Global Net Forum to Counter Terrorism, and individual companies have transferred against hate. Facebook now possesses 150 employees dedicated to fighting terrorism, and GoDaddy banned The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi publication.

Some critics have applauded the effort. The European Commission commended Facebook for what it referred to as “a significant step in the right direction.”

But virtually all critics are extra cautious, if certainly not outright jaundiced, in their views. Among them can be Kara Swisher, the executive editor of Recode, who interviewed LinkedIn co-founder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman at the conference on techniques Silicon Valley can innovate against hate.

“I think, great, it’s a good move to make,” Swisher stated of Hoffman’s proposal that companies not only block hate and fake media, but also offer “more positive” alternatives. “But let’s talk about solutions to only prevent this speech. Where do companies take a stand on this element? They seem to not want to.”

Some, including Swisher, have called out Silicon Valley for a good “brogrammer” tradition of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and also its libertarian method of content and users. How, they consult, can such a dysfunctional industry be expected to police itself and others?

“America is slowly getting up both culturally and politically to the takeover of our economy by a couple of tech monopolies,” Jonathan Taplin, former director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Advancement Lab, wrote in The New York Times found in August. “We realize we are being influenced by guys like Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos toward another that’ll be better for them. We are not sure that it’ll be better for us.”

The ADL has longer tried to enlist tech companies to its cause. ADL leaders state they helped GoDaddy, Google, Bumble, OkCupid and Reddit distinguish and excise white supremacist content, especially content that incited violence.

The timing of the center’s start this week, its leadership says, could not be better. On Monday morning, right before the conference kicked off, the FBI introduced its annual article on hate crimes, exhibiting a rise of 5 percent over 2015. It is the first time in greater than a decade that crimes motivated by bias against competition, religion, sexuality, countrywide origin or disability have increased 2 yrs in a row.

The ADL’s own figures from the first nine months of this year show a 67 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents over 2016, a fact blazoned on pillars through the entire conference, which as well had a high security presence.

In a session about rethinking tech’s purpose in fighting hate online, Carlos Monje, Twitter’s director of public coverage and philanthropy, said the social mass media platform has removed 3 million terrorist accounts. But he had what might serve as a warning for all at the conference.

“You can delete a tweet nonetheless it is not going to delete the ideology behind it,” he said.

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