The USA Today headline of August 5 served up yet another confirmation. There is “A ‘direct correlation’ between rise of hate on social media and attacks, says SPLC.” Some extracts should help to shed more light on the rising anxieties over this and help to highlight the appropriateness of enhanced and continuing vigilance in this country.
That dangerous ‘direct correlation’ is emphasised, because, “Despite efforts from major social media companies to try to weed out hate groups…the reality is they are still all over the networks, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center advocacy group.”
“There is a direct correlation between the rise of hate groups on social media and the frequent attacks,” like the El Paso and Dayton weekend killings, says Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst for the SPLC.
This is troubling in general, and should be even more so in Guyana, which struggles with a longstanding racial problem that has degenerated inner and outer hatred, existing in casual and chronic ways, now taken for granted. The hate is taken for granted; while the attacks (so far) have been limited to the verbal.
With increasing access to social media platforms and the mainstream media itself, in the local arena, there is growing danger of the transformation of generational racial prejudices to more hate-filled cyber rantings, that incite harder in-the-face sentiments in the daily intercourses of life. In an already vexatious elections season, social media is a convenient soapbox from which to stir the local cesspool of hate.
This has been seen with the instantaneous reactions on anything and everything related to the turbulent elections season: there is the quick, unthinking, reckless connection of race and bigoted motives to the political process, the work of GECOM, the decision-making of its chairwoman. It is a poor place in which to be; or in which to function with so much as a difference of opinion.
It is not easily addressed nor readily received. For not too long ago, a leading local politician denounced a watchdog agency’s flagging of alleged “broadcasting violations” of rising to the level of ‘censorship.’ Indeed, it can be a fine line that means different things to different beholders. But if left unchecked, then the worst instincts take off and hurt those unlucky to be on the receiving end. Regard and observance of what is lawful is highly spoken of; but rarely manifested when interests are challenged.
For its part, the USA Today article continued, “In 2019, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube have taken stands against conspiracy theorists.” It appears to be the proverbial losing battle and struggling to contain the many heads of a monster that keeps growing relentlessly.
Taking aim at a divisive figure, the SPLC’s Hankes is tougher on Twitter, President Donald Trump’s social media platform of choice, calling it an “absolute cesspool” of hate. “Twitter does one of the worst jobs of content moderation.” Content moderation must begin with the originator in a temperate, responsible manner: get point across assertively, without feeling it necessary to resort to the vulgar and the wounding.
Mr. Hankes describes Facebook as a “work in progress… but is still a platform of choice by hate groups.” Facebook is where birds of a feather flock together; it has proven to be fertile hunting grounds. All of this means that the social media giants must “do more to combat hateful conduct on their platforms…through greater enforcement of anti-hate policy.”
There are policies, but the required follow-up action leaves much to be desired.
Twitter’s stated anti-hate speech policy says it is not allowed because “it creates an environment of intimidation and…may promote real-world violence.” For its part, Twitter says that it bans participants who “promote violence…or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender….” and more.
So when examined carefully, all of the social media leaders – Facebook, Twitter, and Google – are quick to state that hate speech is not allowed on their networks. Each points to their immediate efforts: “We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups.”
That is helpful, but after the fact; damage is long done and not contained. A better standard would be to go beyond the identifiers of flags and block such incendiary material from seeing the light and spreading the contagious diseases of hate and violence. And blacklist them, so they are known and red-flagged by all platforms in the social media universe.
The networks must take more prohibiting action. Also, there must be closer collaboration with law enforcement to track serial abusers and inciters. In the current local climate, all right-thinking Guyana media watchdogs must be more than vigilant; they must come down hard and unsparingly on those individuals and groups that seek to divide and inflame toward still greater hatred. Behind the care, polite words in public, there are the infernos of animosity.
This society is already tormented by the sights, smells, and sicknesses of many cesspools. Why add or condone a brimming, poisoning social media – one that could overflow at the slightest encouragement?
Leaders and groups may think they possess the stomach and capacity to absorb and overcome whatever is hurled their way in the never-ending battle for supremacy. The reality is that things are clearly not so. The cesspool of hate could easily and quickly transform into a cauldron of the uncontrollable.
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