As already discussed in the previous posts, the internet remains a contested space providing fertile ground for any kind of activism – be it for bad or for good. While the internet offers great potential for social change, it also supports the rise of so-called ‘toxic technocultures’. Online spaces can enable creativity, innovation and fruitful debate. At the same time they also open up for derogatory, anonymous speech for which there is often little legal recourse. Online harassment has been widely discussed, especially since 2014 when anti-feminist action such as ‘The Fappening’ and #Gamergate highlighted the ongoing problems that women face engaging in online spaces (Massanari, 2015). Taking the example of Reddit, Massanari explores how its design, algorithm and platform politics implicitly support toxic technocultures. Twitter is yet another example. Only a couple of weeks ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, spoke at the launch of Jessica Yu’s film about the birth of the internet – foreveryone.net – at Utah’s Sundance Film Festival. He criticized Twitter’s design for promoting “negativity and bullying” instead of “constructive criticism and harmony”. It should be noted at this point that toxic technocultures go beyond anti-feminism and also concern other forms of extremist narratives.
So, the question is – how to make the internet a nicer place without falling into censorship?
As Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian columnist, puts it,
the idea of a “nicer” net sounds a bit twee, guaranteed to enrage libertarians who fear the creation of bland, beige safe spaces where free speech goes to die. But it’s an idea with some big guns behind it, and what they are advocating isn’t censorship, but smarter design.
How do we build a more civilized and inclusive online culture? Notably, a more civilized online culture is closely linked to commercial interests of social media corporations, as social media platsforms have served as popular advertising spaces. A hateful environment would most likely mean less users and less appeal for companies to advertise on those platforms. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg argued for ‘like-attacks’ against Islamic extremism. She was inspired by a recent effort by German Facebook users to post positive messages on the Facebook page of a Neo-nazi party. Likes and #love against toxic technocultures?!
Another suggestion has been given by the startup Civil Comments which is built on a combination of peer review, machine learning and decision algorithms. Before posting a comment (in a forum or on an article), all comments undergo two or more peer moderation passes. The idea behind it is to give a sense of social inhibition as in real life opposed to anonymous online speech. The idea of peer review and peer pressure as a tool to encourage second thoughts before posting is certainly an interesting way to reduce extremist narratives in online spaces. Nevertheless, the issue of free speech is a tricky one. Who is to decide what is considered ‘offensive’ or ‘nice’ and where do we draw the line? Any comments? Suggestions?
Last but not least, a satirical look at the topic: [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuNIwYsz7PI[/youtube]
Massanari, A. 2015: #Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures, New Media & Society, 10/2015