A set of alerts directed at the right account can help reduce the amount of hate on Twitter. That is the conclusion New research Examine whether targeted warnings can reduce hate speech on the platform.
Researchers at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics found that personal warnings to Twitter users about the consequences of their behavior reduced the number of tweets in hate speech a week later. According to Mustafa Mikdat Yildirim, lead author of the study, although more studies are needed, the experiment suggests that “there is a potential path for platforms that seek to reduce the use of hate speech by users.”
In the experiment, researchers identified accounts that were at risk of being suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against hate speech. They searched for people who used at least one word in the “hate language dictionary” the previous week, who followed at least one account that was recently suspended after using such language.
From there, researchers created experimental accounts with people like “Hate speech warners” and used the accounts to tweet warnings to these people. They tested a number of variations, but all had the same message: using hate speech put them at risk of suspension, and it happened to someone they already followed.
“The user account you follow has been suspended, and I suspect it was due to hate speech,” read a sample message shared on paper. “If you continue to use hate speech, you may be temporarily suspended.” In another change, the warning account identifies itself as a professional researcher, as well as informing the individual that they are at risk of suspension. “We tried to be as credible and credible as possible,” Yildirim told Engadget.
The researchers found that the warnings were effective, at least in the short term. “Our results show that just one warning tweet sent through an account with no more than 100 followers can reduce the proportion of hateful tweets by up to 10%,” the author wrote. Interestingly, they found that messages “more politely” led to a further decline, with a reduction of up to 20 percent. Yildirim said: “We have tried to increase the politeness of our message by introducing our warning that ‘Oh, we respect your right to freedom of speech, but remember that your hate speech can hurt others’.”
In the paper, Yildirim and his co-authors noted that there were only 100 followers in each of their test accounts and that they were not affiliated with any authentic entity. But if the same kind of warning comes from Twitter or from an NGO or other organization, the warning can be even more effective. “The thing we learned from this test is that the actual process of the game is that we actually let these people know that there are some account or some entity that is watching and monitoring their behavior,” Yildirim said. “Their use of hate speech may have been the most important factor that anyone else has seen, which has led these people to reduce their hate speech.”
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, we may receive an approved commission.