[Marxism] On Instagram, 11, 696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
seen before.”

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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