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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Explained: How Twitter’s new prompt, to cut down toxic tweets, will work

Apart from social media platforms, agencies such as the UN have also taken note of hate speech in recent times.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 7, 2021 7:42:19 am
Last year, Twitter tested prompts that would encourage people to rethink some posts. Image: Twitter Blog

In a blog post published Wednesday, Twitter announced that it is rolling out a prompts feature on its iOS and Android apps “that encouraged people to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply before they hit send.” The feature is being rolled out in a bid to encourage “healthier conversations” on the social media platform.

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So, what is this new feature and why has it been rolled out?

In 2020, Twitter tested prompts that would encourage people to rethink some posts. Starting May last year, the social media company ran limited tests on iOS apps in which some users were shown prompts that urged them to rethink their posts or replies if the language was thought to be harmful. Twitter says that harmful and offensive replies would mean if they were considered insulting, used strong language or were hateful.

Then in August 2020, these prompts were revised to include more information about why an individual received them and improved how the context of the conversation was considered before displaying a prompt. After this, this feature was tested on iOS, Android and web.

In Wednesday’s blog, Twitter said based on feedback and learning from the tests conducted over the course of last year, prompts would be rolled out on iOS and Android apps for users who have enabled English-language settings.

Twitter users will see this prompt when they attempt to retweet a post that is harmful or offensive. Image: Twitter blog

Since the testing of this feature began, Twitter has made certain improvements such as consideration of the nature of relationship between two account holders. “For example, if two accounts follow and reply to each other often, there’s a higher likelihood that they have a better understanding of preferred tone of communication,” Twitter has said.

Through tests, Twitter has found that when prompted, 34 per cent of the people revised their initial reply or decided to not send their reply at all. Further, they found that on being prompted once, people on average composed 11 per cent fewer offensive replies in the future. Twitter also notes that if promoted, people were less likely to receive offensive and harmful replies back.

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How do social media platforms define what is hateful?

There is no precise definition of hate speech, but it is broadly understood as speech or content that calls for violence against people or is threatening to them and is based on their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The Cambridge Dictionary defines hate speech as, “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence toward a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation (= the fact of being gay, etc.)”.

Twitter: In March 2020 Twitter said, “…we expanded our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion.” As per their new policy against “hateful conduct”, users are discouraged from promoting, “violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”

Reddit: On similar lines, rule 1 of Reddit’s content rules states, “Everyone has a right to use Reddit free of harassment, bullying, and threats of violence. Communities and users that incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned.”

Facebook: Hate speech is one element of Facebook’s “Community Standards”. The platform states, “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.” It adds: “We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.”

Apart from social media platforms, agencies such as the UN have also taken note of hate speech in recent times. The UN launched the Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech in 2019 that aims to provide the resources to tackle hate speech, in line with international human rights and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

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