How Twitter is Dealing With Hate Speech

Nancy Anderson
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Following the presidential election of 2016, Twitter set up an anti-harassment tool to help victims of hate speech avoid having offensive posts sent to them. An individual user can customize a list of words and phrases he does not want to see pop up in notifications through the social media network. This Twitter mute button has several problems, notes John Brandon of Computerworld.

The hate speech filter only works with notifications as opposed to the actual Twitter post. You can still see the tweet in all of its glory if you scroll through your own feed and find the offending tweet yourself. The program simply prevents you from seeing the post in your notifications. It doesn't prevent someone from using language you find abusive or harassing.

Can This Really Block Hate Speech?

The Twitter mute button probably cannot block all forms of hate speech all of the time because internet trolls who want to harass an individual simply change the verbiage. For example, someone who uses the word "drown" might change the term to "suffocate" or "asphyxiate" if the original trolling post is blocked. Coders call this concept "endless pursuit," where a hacker tries to get into a system by using different methods until one works. A truly horrible internet troll will find a way to get into your social media. Clever ones rearrange letters in words, add a few characters to offending words or find other creative means to circumvent any anti-harassment programs.

Even if you see the offending post, you still have to report the harassment to Twitter before a staffer investigates. That takes time, plus you still see the Twitter post. There are also legalities since internet bullying might be illegal in some cases. Not everyone may want to deal with drawing out a fight for a lengthy period of time. Changing your account to private or strengthening privacy settings could work, but then a lot fewer people might find you on the social network.


One solution for Twitter is to verify people's real names. Internet trolls, even if they are banned for using hate speech, could just create another account with another email address. Another way to combat internet trolls is to employ a more robust artificial intelligence program. Twitter could run an algorithm, similar to Google's vaunted web bot, to root out possible harassment. The algorithm would use machine learning, or a way to improve its search-and-block feature, with every new tweet. Over time, the program could suppress all phrases that use similar words yet have the same intention.

Twitter has to find a balance between protecting its own financial well-being and giving users the freedom to utilize all of the tools in Twitter's arsenal, even though hate speech is never pleasant. The social media company can limit free speech as much as it wants at any time, it just has to put forth the effort to accomplish this in the most effective way possible.

Photo courtesy of Andreas Eldh at


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