[Marxism] On Instagram, 11, 696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media
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Tue Oct 30 19:11:13 MDT 2018
NY Times, Oct. 30, 2018
On Instagram, 11,696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media
By Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger
SAN FRANCISCO — On Monday, a search on Instagram, the photo-sharing site
owned by Facebook, produced a torrent of anti-Semitic images and videos
uploaded in the wake of Saturday’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
A search for the word “Jews” displayed 11,696 posts with the hashtag
“#jewsdid911,” claiming that Jews had orchestrated the Sept. 11 terror
attacks. Other hashtags on Instagram referenced Nazi ideology, including
the number 88, an abbreviation used for the Nazi salute “Heil Hitler.”
The Instagram posts demonstrated a stark reality. Over the last 10
years, Silicon Valley’s social media companies have expanded their reach
and influence to the furthest corners of the world. But it has become
glaringly apparent that the companies never quite understood the
negative consequences of that influence nor what to do about it — and
that they cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
“Social media is emboldening people to cross the line and push the
envelope on what they are willing to say to provoke and to incite,” said
Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center
for Digital Journalism. “The problem is clearly expanding.”
The repercussions of the social media companies’ inability to handle
disinformation and hate speech have manifested themselves abundantly in
recent days. Cesar Sayoc Jr., who was charged last week with sending
explosive devices to prominent Democrats, appeared to have been
radicalized online by partisan posts on Twitter and Facebook. Robert D.
Bowers, who is accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life
synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, posted about his hatred of Jews on
Gab, a two-year-old social network.
The effects of social media were also evident globally. Close watchers
of Brazil’s election on Sunday ascribed much of the appeal of the
victor, the far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro, to what unfolded on
social media there. Interests tied to Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign appeared
to have flooded WhatsApp, the messaging application owned by Facebook,
with a deluge of political content that gave wrong information on voting
locations and times, provided false instructions on how to vote for
particular candidates and outright disparaged one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s
main opponents, Fernando Haddad.
Elsewhere, high-ranking members of the Myanmar military have used
doctored messages on Facebook to foment anxiety and fear against the
Muslim Rohingya minority group. And in India, fake stories on WhatsApp
about child kidnappings led mobs to murder more than a dozen people this
“Social media companies have created, allowed and enabled extremists to
move their message from the margins to the mainstream,” said Jonathan A.
Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, a
nongovernmental organization that combats hate speech. “In the past,
they couldn’t find audiences for their poison. Now, with a click or a
post or a tweet, they can spread their ideas with a velocity we’ve never
Facebook said it was investigating the anti-Semitic hashtags on
Instagram after The New York Times flagged them. Sarah Pollack, a
Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement that Instagram was seeing new
posts related to the shooting on Saturday and that it was “actively
reviewing hashtags and content related to these events and removing
content that violates our policies.”
YouTube said it has strict policies prohibiting content that promotes
hatred or incites violence and added that it takes down videos that
violate those rules.
Social media companies have said that identifying and removing hate
speech and disinformation — or even defining what constitutes such
content — is difficult. Facebook said this year that only 38 percent of
hate speech on its site was flagged by its internal systems. In
contrast, its systems pinpointed and took down 96 percent of what it
defined as adult nudity, and 99.5 percent of terrorist content.
YouTube said users reported nearly 10 million videos from April to June
for potentially violating its community guidelines. Just under one
million of those videos were found to have broken the rules and were
removed, according to the company’s data. YouTube’s automated detection
tools also took down an additional 6.8 million videos in that period.
A study by researchers from M.I.T. that was published in March found
that falsehoods on Twitter were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted
than accurate news.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all announced plans to invest heavily
in artificial intelligence and other technology aimed at finding and
removing unwanted content from their sites. Facebook has also said it
would hire 10,000 additional people to work on safety and security
issues, and YouTube has said that it planned to have 10,000 people
dedicated to reviewing videos. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive,
recently said that although the company’s longtime principle was free
expression, it was discussing how “safety should come first.”
But even as the companies throw money and resources at the problems,
some of their employees said on Monday that they were rethinking whether
At Twitter, for example, employees are increasingly concerned that the
company is floundering in its treatment of toxic language and hate
speech, said four current and former employees who asked for anonymity
because they had signed nondisclosure agreements.
The employees said their uncertainty surfaced in August, when Apple and
other companies erased most of the posts and videos on their services
from Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and founder of the right-wing
site Infowars — but Twitter did not. (Twitter only followed suit weeks
later.) Saturday’s shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue led employees to
urge Twitter’s leadership to firm up a policy on how to deal with hate
speech and white supremacist content, two of the people said.
Twitter did not address questions about its employee concerns on Monday,
but said it needed to be “thoughtful and considered” in its policies.
“Progress in this space is tough but we’ve never been as committed and
as focused in our efforts,” Twitter said. “Serving public conversation
and trying to make it healthier is our singular mission here.”
Instagram, which was created as a site for people to share curated
photos of their food, adorable pets and cute children, has largely
avoided scrutiny over disinformation and hate content — especially when
compared with its parent, Facebook. But social media researchers said
that the site had over the last year become more of a hotbed for hateful
posts and videos meant to provoke discord.
That was evident after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, with the
mushrooming of new anti-Semitic content on the site. On Sunday, one new
video added to Instagram claimed that the state of Israel was created by
the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family. Underneath the video, the
hashtags read #conspiracy and #jewworldorder.
By late Monday, it had been viewed more than 1,640 times and shared to
other social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook.
Follow Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger on Twitter: @sheeraf,
@MikeIsaac and @kateconger.
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