#HEYTWITTER
August 7, 2017 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Frustrated with Twitter's lack of response to hate tweets, Shahak Shapira spraypainted 300 of them in front of Twitter's offices in Hamburg, filming the response of passers-by. (SLYT)
posted by NoxAeternum (25 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow.
posted by lemonade at 1:05 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Tweet this post.
posted by sammyo at 1:08 PM on August 7


Interesting that the cops showed up, but left pretty much immediately. I guess it's not vandalism because it can be washed away pretty easily.

I'm not sure how I feel about spreading the hate speech around for everyone to see. On one hand, fuck Twitter and they should absolutely be forced to confront their cesspit of abusive users. On the other, subjecting all passer-by to some really disgusting content seems...unfortunate.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 1:22 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


The problem is that nothing else seems to get Twitter's attention, most likely due to the contingent of "free speech absolutists" in the company who see deleting any tweet as a mortal sin. Maybe the discomfort of the public will make Twitter act.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:25 PM on August 7 [12 favorites]


Don't read the comments, etc.
posted by clawsoon at 1:29 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I liked that after they get a few of them cleaned up, he dryly noted "[This] fits in well with Twitter's policy of cleaning in front of their own door and leaving the rest to be someone else's problem."
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:34 PM on August 7 [38 favorites]


How can they claim to be the free speech wing of the free speech party if they remove any of these at all? That's censorship! They need to leave them all up, surely.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:38 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Twitter is perfectly happy to enable a toxic abuser who happens to work out of the Oval Office these days. Mr. Shapira's protest should be an embarrassing wake up call. I'm pretty sure Twitter DGAF.
posted by Eikonaut at 1:38 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I used to report a dozen or so hateful/spammy youtube comments every day and google did jack shit. Then I realized I was doing lots of futile and unpaid work for one of the richest companies on the planet and pretty much stopped.

Ultimately it's the content creators who suffer and leave, the very people who made Twitter and Youtube in the first place.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:45 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Thanks mods for your careful, constant moderation. It makes MeFi the opposite of Twitter, and that's a great thing!
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:49 PM on August 7 [46 favorites]


In response to this, Twitter has announced all user images will now be torus shaped.
posted by boo_radley at 1:53 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Quite how Twitter manages to get away with not giving a fuck in a country like Germany with robust hate speech laws (as the recently-dead neo-nazi Ernst Zündel found out) I shall never know.
posted by scruss at 2:02 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I can't see anything happening until the price of ignoring incitement and hate speech is higher in terms of user engagement than addressing it is. This kind of abuse is all but built into Twitter's business model, despite all their cant about empowerment and connecting people.

I've been involved in online communities since the BBS era, and honestly, in the last few years, I've started to think a lot about Flaubert's insistence that railroads were useless - that they'd just allow more people to move around, meet and be stupid. It feels like we've passed a threshold from the early promise of the internet definitively dying to the basic economic models the commercial web is based on effectively guaranteeing largely evil outcomes. The entire thing is starting to feel like a lost cause.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:03 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I've been getting more and more uncomfortable with using Twitter. Even though I've never personally been a victim of much abuse (a few tweets here and there), I find the culture of the place, even amongst the non-abusive, to be increasingly unpleasant and toxic. I've been disengaging with it more and more, so tweeting out this video and getting the fuck out of there seems like a fitting end.
posted by Automocar at 2:03 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Whatever you do, don't read the comments.
posted by runcibleshaw at 2:12 PM on August 7


I see his point, but a dude placing hate speech in a public space is still a net increase in dudes placing hate speech in public space. I know Shahak Shapira is Jewish, but there is no way to know he's the one behind this when you see the actual graffito.

In Hamburg? If I was a Jew, and I am, just wandering by, I'm not sure I'd be clear on what was intended by this, but I sure as hell would notice that there is some text demanding I be gassed.
posted by maxsparber at 2:13 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I can't see anything happening until the price of ignoring incitement and hate speech is higher in terms of user engagement than addressing it is.

In some ways, we're already there - remember, Twitter had several buyout deals scuttled by the toxicity of their user base. The problem is that there is a contingent of "free speech absolutists" within the tech community and Twitter in particular who argue that actual moderation of the service would open the door to censorship. Needless to say, these individuals tend to be white men.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:14 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Quite how Twitter manages to get away with not giving a fuck in a country like Germany with robust hate speech laws (as the recently-dead neo-nazi Ernst Zündel found out) I shall never know.

The thing is, Twitter does comply with German law in this. Twitter knows exactly who the Nazis on their platform are.

They just choose to not do anything about it.
posted by neckro23 at 3:09 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


(Disclaimer: I work for EFF, but this is almost all personal opinion).
The problem is that there is a contingent of "free speech absolutists" within the tech community and Twitter in particular who argue that actual moderation of the service would open the door to censorship.
I really don't think that's what Twitter's problem is. Most of the people, inside and out of Twitter, who would be most likely to be described as "free speech absolutists", have been repeatedly highlighting (in public an din private) the many steps that Twitter could take to limit harassment -- and the power of those who want to conduct harassment -- on their service. Harassment /damages/ the free speech rights of those who are targeted; hosts like Twitter are /exercising/ their collective free speech rights when they choose which content they host, and which they decline to host. And their users are exercising that right when they filter and control what they see.

Like many platforms, Twitter's problem is with internal incentives, not some sort of political stance. Their metrics are driven by "engagement", and harassment looks like engagement under those metrics. Twitter decided long ago that they wanted to maintain full control of how Twitter is delivered to you, which means individual users aren't empowered to change how Twitter works for them. A third-party market of tools that let you block, ignore, post and report to Twitter in ways that reflect how different communities use Twitter (and are targeted for abuse by others) would make Twitter a better platform for the millions who don't fall into Twitter's median model of their "average" user, but Twitter refuses to allow that to happen. Finally, Twitter has been too long driven by a improvisational, headline-driven response to abuse rather than acknowledging it as not only a fundamental problem, but one that disproportionately affects the very people that never hit the headlines. They see abuse through the lens of celebrity stories, instead of the almost-impossible-to-comprehend diversity of their audience.

We, and many other groups, come to them and other social media platforms, with stories of how free speech has been chilled by harassment and their missteps in handling that harassment, from all around the world, and from dozens of minority groups. They listen, but they don't have the capability of transforming their product into what's needed, without either ceding power to those groups, re-wiring their entire internal organization plan, or stopping just reacting to yesterday's news with random steps.

There are really good people at Twitter working on this, and they've been working on it for years. But to fix it would involve transformations to Twitter's whole business, and that needs to come from the very very top. And after years of working on this, I don't think anyone knows how to give those people the spark of understanding. (And none of those people at the top, see themselves as "free speech absolutists," and many of us trying to flag this are.)
posted by ntk at 3:24 PM on August 7 [25 favorites]


The thing is, we have reporting that has documented the issues with "free speech absolutism" at Twitter - BuzzFeed did a longform article last year about the struggles Twitter has with abuse, and how the company's relationship with free speech absolutism has helped drive that to some degree. (When you're arguing over the free speech ramifications of pulling ISIS beheading videos, I daresay you have lost the point.)

And honestly, none of the points you raise contradicts this. Twitter's metrics are informed and shaped by the company's position on free speech, which in turn is why they see harassment as engagement - they're culturally biased in that direction. Control of how Twitter operates, as well as how they handle abuse is also informed by the corporate culture. And a large part of why it takes headlining crises to get Twitter to change direction is because they're enough of an external shock to diminish the power of the voices that would oppose any changes to their moderation - when it's global headline news that a woman is getting death threats tweeted to her over petitioning for Jane Austen to be put on a bank note and you have no mechanisms for finding out which tweets those are, that gives a good amount of impetus to implement flagging. (Yes, that happened.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:14 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I'd state that the free speech part of that Buzzfeed piece (which has some pretty good and accurate parts to it) doesn't quite carry the weight the article puts on it as the ur-reason for Twitter's take on harassment, or their attitude. I think you can take it out and still have an accurate story of Twitter's stumblings. And that's why "none of [my] points contradict" this narrative. Lots of it is true. What isn't true is that the free speech parts of Twitter aren't /also/ parts who have been trying to work out solutions for harassment, and being frustrated by the organization's inability to act on it.

To concede a little here, I think you can definitely see dissenting views about *how* to deal with harassment leading to paralysis, and those concerned about free expression being often on one side of that discussion. The warning we frequently made is that if you cede power to decide what is legitimate speech to Twitter as a commercial, US-based, largely homogenous organization, the mistakes they make will silence minority voices more than they would deal with organized harassment. I'm pretty sure the steps Twitter has taken since dropping the free speech language and stance (which I'd date from around 2014) have shown exactly that consequence.

To those other points, actually arguing about the free speech ramifications of ISIS beheading videos is pretty much the place where the point sits. Defining a line for what you remove always needs to include a place for the "newsworthy". You define a rule that covers ISIS bombers beheading, and then you suddenly find your team or your algorithms deleting and blocking accounts revealing police murders of black youth. I don't have any insight into that Twitter discussion, but based on previous conversations, I can bet that the free speech side of it would be trying to work out how to protect whistleblowing of violence, and *somebody* on the other side would be saying "Guys, we're just here for funny 140 character tweets. It doesn't *matter* if some of them get removed."

I'd also re-iterate that headlines are not the way to protect minority speech rights, because access to the media is a privilege in itself, and many of Twitter's odd edges come from the status accorded to celebrities' experience of it (and the very narrow kind of harassment and mistreatment they experience, as separate from the many other forms of communication and targeting that takes place) I feel that diversity -- of tools, of creators, and of platforms and the power to control them -- is the answer. So many of us end up arguing on that side of the practicalities. But it's not from a position of "oh let's ignore harassment, it's not a real problem". And I think it mischaracterises the internal debate at Twitter.

I think this is important to understand, even if you disagree with me about the correct approach, because I think it's vitally important for people who want Twitter and other social media platforms to change their policies are able to model what goes on in them correctly. I've spent a long time conducting Kremlinology of these companies. I wish I didn't have to. I wish we were in an alternate universe where a billion metafilters bloomed instead of Twitter, and Facebook, and a handful of others. But while we're in this place, I think it's good that everyone outside of these companies has a better idea of who their allies and opponents inside are.
posted by ntk at 6:23 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


The thing is, as you yourself acknowledged, that minority voices are already being silenced by the constant volume of hate that gets pumped out through Twitter. People are not just leaving Twitter because of the abuse and hate, but even other public forums out of fear of being attacked on Twitter. You keep on warning that ceding power to Twitter to deal with harassment will silence minorities and the dispossessed, but how is that different from what is happening now?

And yes, I agree that headlines are not the way to handle this, but unfortunately, they're also one of the few things that cuts through the stalemate and forces Twitter's hand. You talk about giving the users tools to combat harassment (and I find that a very problematic position, as it feels very much like asking victims to be responsible for preventing their victimization), but it took international headlines to get Twitter to implement a basic flagging function - something that I've seen every sort of forum online have built in from day one.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:36 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I've faded off of twitter quite a bit because I'm tired of being called deluded, sick, perverted, stupid, mentally ill, etc when I engage in discussions on trans issues. I don't bother reporting anything; it makes no difference.

No speech should be censored by government, but that doesn't make all speech equally valuable.
posted by AFABulous at 8:44 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


(Is this thread-sitting? I'm really bad at Metafilter. I always write a gazillion ungrammatical words and clog the discussion. I'll say this and finish up).


...as you yourself acknowledged, that minority voices are already being silenced by the constant volume of hate that gets pumped out through Twitter.

I don't just acknowledge it, to a lot of us, it's one of the core free speech issues of the moment. It's hard to point that out now, because free speech as a term has been co-opted used as a method to chill this speech; but it's true.
You keep on warning that ceding power to Twitter to deal with harassment will silence minorities and the dispossessed, but how is that different from what is happening now?
Differences in degree, differences in those affected, differences in ways we have to undo that silencing. If something doesn't fix a problem, and in fact makes it worse in some axis, then that thing is not what you should do. It's not ceding power to Twitter, incidentally -- Twitter has all the power right now. It's expecting the solution to this to come from Twitter having all the power, rather than re-distributing that power back to its users (or to other platforms better controlled by its users, cough cough Metafilter).
And yes, I agree that headlines are not the way to handle this, but unfortunately, they're also one of the few things that cuts through the stalemate and forces Twitter's hand.
But it shouldn't be -- and it doesn't get the right results. The right thing for Twitter to do is to listen to academics, experts, and most of all their users.The social media platform abuse data I get from users in Pakistan or dalit communities iis different in many axis from those I deal with from, say, trans community in the United States.

Twitter's headline-model for dealing with this doesn't work. Mass follower management systems that allow celebrities to control their feeds are not only not rolled out to others dealing with similar problems, but controls based on them often don't work in other contexts. To pick a really trite example, telling nazis on Twitter to fuck off, and then getting suspended for saying so, is clearly a failure. But it's a failure drawn from dealing with celebrity and headline-driven campaigns that call for a particular form of online "civility". A celebrity isn't usually the person at risk for being suspended for saying "fuck off". But a person on the front lines of dealing with white supremacists may well be.
It took international headlines to get Twitter to implement a basic flagging function - something that I've seen every sort of forum online have built in from day one.
I'm not a Twitter expert, but my recollection was that Twitter had a flagging function long before then, but it led to a overcomplicated form that was almost impossible to use from the mobile platform. I can assure you there was literally nobody on the free speech wing of Twitter internally or external groups like EFF that thought having a clunky way to flag content was a good idea, or helped free expression in any way. As far as my Kremlinology understood it, the difficulty was at the time, those in charge of UX concentrated on engagement and new users, when Trust & Safety should have been prioritized.

When I've lobbied Twitter for change, it's no secret that it was almost always with the idea that T&S had the best grasp of the problem, and Twitter should front and center their needs. Celebrity harassment gets you a jerky one-time concession to trust and safety, but couched in a uniquely privileged and West-centric way. It doesn't deal with the background noise of harassment those who don't get headlines receive, and that's why no matter how much Twitter tries to deal with this problem, everyone is still unhappy, and the fixes don't work, and they end up backfiring in minority communities.
You talk about giving the users tools to combat harassment (and I find that a very problematic position, as it feels very much like asking victims to be responsible for preventing their victimization).
Just to be clear, this really isn't about asking victims to be take up the burden of policing their feed, it's about creating tooling and interfaces that support how the diversity of people who use Twitter, use Twitter, rather than a monolithic experience. Hopefully it goes without saying that user empowerment is only part of any strategy to combat harassment.

In particular, some groups experience concentrated harasssment in ways that Twitter fails to address, but dozens of professionals working in fighting harassment have plenty of ideas on how to deal with. I want those experts to have the power to build tools to help the communities they're close to. Empowerment should not be about a burden, but allowing people to work together to lift the burden from others.

The example of improving the flagging UX is a great example. If Twitter had let others build Twitter clients, that would have let somebody else build a better flagging interface. And that improvement wouldn't have depended on a single person getting a headline in front of Twitter's CEO.

Twitter both refuses to take on the full (what I would say is a logistically, economically, and ethically impossible) burden to police their own platform, but also won't let others do it either.

It would help to a certain degree if Silicon Valley companies were more diverse, it would help if they listened more, but ultimately a single global company with a few thousand employee just isn't going to be able to scale moderation in a way that's socially just in every context.

I might be wrong about that, but I'll also point out when well-meaning moderation policies lead to active silencing of voices. I think we could probably be pretty good allies in keeping an eye on that.

posted by ntk at 9:57 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Just a quick reminder that there's a Twitter knockoff that doesn't have the things that make Twitter shit, and it can actually be a pretty lovely place.
posted by FeatherWatt at 7:02 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


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