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The Ridgefield Press featured Dyson Professor Adam G. Klein's piece "Social networks aim to erase hate but miss the target on guns"

07/21/2020

The Ridgefield Press featured Dyson Professor Adam G. Klein's piece "Social networks aim to erase hate but miss the target on guns"

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Adam G. Klein, Pace University

(THE CONVERSATION) As Facebook faces down a costly boycott campaign demanding the social network do more to combat hate speech, CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to ban a “wider category of hateful content in ads.” Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have also taken additional steps to curtail online hate, removing several inflammatory accounts.

But as social networks refine their policies and update algorithms for detecting extremism, they overlook a major source of hateful content: gun talk.

As a researcher of online extremism, I examined the user policies of social networks and found that while each address textbook forms of hate speech, they give a pass to the widespread use of gun rhetoric that celebrates or promotes violence.

In fact, the word “gun” appears but once in Facebook’s policy on “Violence and incitement” to bar the manipulation of images to include a gun to the head. And neither “guns” nor “firearms” are mentioned in Twitter’s policy on “Glorifications of violence,” or YouTube’s guidelines on “Violent or graphic content” or within any of these networks’ rules on hate speech.

Gun talk as a threat

Gun references have become prevalent in social media dialogues involving the nationwide protests over racial injustice, police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Facebook, a group called White Lives Matter shared a post that reads, “Don’t allow yourself or your property to become a victim of violence. Pick up your weapon and defend yourself.” Another user posted the picture of a handgun beneath the message, “I never carried a weapon, never needed it, but I have changed my mind and will apply for what I deem necessary to handle things my way … Tired of all these BLM idiots looters.”

While nearly every social network works to identify and prohibit violent speech, gun groups have managed to evade censure. One such Facebook community gleefully taunts protesters with the prospect of retaliation by firearm. They share a meme of a stack of bullets surrounded by the caption, “If you defund the police you should know, I don’t own any rubber bullets.”