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article imageOp-Ed: Twitter asking for outside help to help remove 'toxic material'

By Ken Hanly     Mar 1, 2018 in Internet
Twitter has responded to criticism that it has not done enough to remove "toxic" material in a number of ways. Now the company is asking for suggestions from the public to help promote healthy, open and civil conversations online.
Twitter's response to criticism
Twitter has been criticized on diverse issues from not acting sufficiently to stop harassment to allowing foreign tweets that try to sow political discord. I would think that harassment could be stopped simply by the person being harassed blocking the person doing the harassment. As for foreign actors sowing political discord, surely the discord already exists and the tweets could be factually true. Domestic groups no doubt try to do the same thing.
Twitter has responded by allowing individuals more options as to what they see online. It has also updated its terms of use several times to deal with the issues brought up.
Twitter's request for advice on how to promote "healthy, open, and civil conversations online" seems to promote Twitter as some sort of arbiter of the health, civility, etc. of what appears on Twitter. It is not clear why they want to take on such a hopeless and thankless task. If Twitter were a Chinese social media outlet that the government wanted to control it would make some sense, but I assume the U.S. government is not pressing this task upon the company.
No doubt some issues such as the use of bots need to be addressed, but the attempt to be a moral arbiter of what appears on Twitter seems a doomed project. There will always be those who disagree with a decision or who press for more what is in fact censorship.
As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey noted in a tweet: "While working to fix it, we‘ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias, and optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society. This is not who we are, or who we ever want to be."
Shifting the burden to external advice
Dorsey remarks that he does not know how the best way to measure the conversational health on its platform is. Why would one want to measure conversational health whatever that is supposed to be?
The company said: "Twitter's health will be built and measured by how we help encourage more healthy debate, conversations and critical thinking; conversely, abuse, spam and manipulation will detract from it. We are looking to partner with outside experts to help us identify how we measure the health of Twitter, keep us accountable to share our progress with the world and establish a way forward for the long-term."
There are outside experts on the health of conversations on Twitter? Many tweets have nothing to do with conversation, they are just interesting links, quotes, etc. Twitter is hardly the medium for much critical thinking as the length of posts is limited. There is often little or no extended discussion but rather off the cuff responses. Is that unhealthy? Or that there is no discussion at all but just posted links?
The company does not know whether healthy debate, conversations and critical thinking are the right indicators of the health of Twitter. Surely Twitter is ultimately interested in having lots of users with lots of tweets so that advertisers will want to place ads on Twitter. All this talk of health appears to be related to ensuring that Twitter has a reputation that does not deter advertisers and even attracts them to "socially responsible Twitter".
Vague rhetorical moralising
The company says we don't know the best ways to help increase individual, community and ultimately global public health. Who ever expected that you should know that? Is Twitter some global health provider?
CEO Dorsey tweets: "What we know is we must commit to a rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics to measure the health of public conversation on Twitter. And we must commit to sharing our results publicly to benefit all who serve the public conversation."
Perhaps translated this may mean: "We are all for the public good and healthy discourse therefore it is safe and a public good to place ads with us."
Twitter has a form that allows people who have ideas on making Twitter healthy to submit their ideas: Those who want to propose ways to do this can submit their ideas through this form starting today. The form asks you to describe your proposed health metrics, how you'll measure, evaluate and report them and how long you'll need to develop your methods. It also asks for what sorts of resources you might need and requests you provide any peer-reviewed articles you've published that are relevant to your proposal.
Those who are chosen to collaborate with Twitter will get funding to do so and are expected to produce open-access, peer-reviewed research articles about their work. Those interested must submit their proposals by April 13th and Twitter will ask those it wants to hear more from to share further details throughout May and June. Final selections will be announced in July.
In the end , Twitter can present a clean bill of health to advertisers when all this comes to fruition.
At present however it will have to innoculate itself against being sued by radical right organizations such as American Rennaisance's Jared Taylor as shown in the appended video.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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