Video of NYU Panel on Hate Speech on Social Media

I discuss with Nadine Strossen and Jacob Mchangama what the Internet has come to

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Earlier this month, I was on a panel entitled "Hate Speech on Social Media: Is There a Way to a More Civil Discourse?" at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with Nadine Strossen and Jacob Mchangama. We discussed a host of issues including free speech before and after the advent of the Internet, social media platform liability, the effectiveness of counterspeech, fake news and its effects on democracy, and other themes. Interested readers can watch the full event here.

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30 responses to “Video of NYU Panel on Hate Speech on Social Media

  1. There’s always this fantasy that people are nice. They aren’t.

    There’s one way to get to a more civil discourse in public… when the participants want it to be, it will be, and until then, it won’t. Back in the olden times, when Internet access was limited to mostly just college students at research universities, there were flame wars amongst the nerds, with some wondering why people couldn’t be nicer on Usenet. Today, the nature of human interaction on the Internet is… about the same.

    1. Humans have been killing each other since…the first time.

      It’s ridiculous to thing the internets has anything to do with hate or civil discourse.

      The only thing different now is, instead of yelling at my neighbor across the street, I can yell at my neighbor across the country or across the ocean, and have other people who agree with me yell at him/her/hir too.

      1. “It’s ridiculous to thing the internets has anything to do with hate or civil discourse.”

        Well, no… there are a couple of things the Internet does change. One thing is that people can find other people that share niche interests, instead of remaining isolated. This is fine for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to share their love of first-generation Doctor Who or some band you never heard of, less fine when it’s people who think shooting up schools and offices is a neat idea.
        Another thing is the potentially global reach, which you allude to. It’s one thing when you yell at your neighbor over the fence… nearly everybody can ignore it. Converse, if you say mean things about Taylor Swift on Twitter… LOTS of people will make it their business.

        But there’s only two ways to increase civility in popular discourse on the Internet… once is to develop increasingly civil human beings (no progress on that front, AFAICT) and the other is to exclude incivil people from Internet access or Internet communities (a third approach is to limit one’s one access, which changes nothing about what’s happening online but substantially alters one’s reactions to what’s happening online.

      2. The interwebs allow you to spew bile at others anonymously (and at very low cost of transmission) that could not be done so easily in the past, which does contribute to degrading civil discourse.

        1. This is the critical factor, I suspect. The anonymous nature. Sure, in real life, there will be the rare person is enough of a jerk to publicly say horrible things to a coworker, neighbor, etc. But you can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting a dozen people who are willing to say the most awful things to anyone who dares disagree with them . . . and 99.9974% of those comments are made anonymously.

          1. I’ve seen some speculation that, for some fraction of humanity, the usual social filters that stop us from screaming in each others’ faces like poo throwing monkeys just don’t engage when the interaction isn’t face to face.

            So you’ve got people who are going to be civil whether or not they’re online, but there’s just a certain number of people who can’t keep it together if there isn’t a face in front of them to remind them they’re dealing with another human.

            Then, of course, you’ve got the group who have adopted vicious attacks as a deliberate strategy to advance their causes. I suspect they’re the real problem.

            1. “I’ve seen some speculation that, for some fraction of humanity, the usual social filters that stop us from screaming in each others’ faces like poo throwing monkeys just don’t engage when the interaction isn’t face to face. ”

              There’s also a substantial subset of the population that can’t read social cues at all, or do so very poorly. Sometimes they hide away to avoid antagonizing people, and sometimes… they don’t.

    2. There’s one way to get to a more civil discourse in public… when the participants want it to be, it will be, and until then, it won’t.

      This isn’t at all true. Civilization is the story of setting up incentive structures to keep humans acting better than they otherwise might. This is a new arena for that fight; we don’t know the rules yet. But that doesn’t mean the effort is doomed. We’ve tamed worse temptations.

      1. ” Civilization is the story of setting up incentive structures to keep humans acting better than they otherwise might.”

        Then the barbarians come, and raze the city.

  2. I suspect – more than suspect – that many of these “private rules” promulgated by social media platforms are done to kow-tow to the governments where these platforms operate – “look, we’re doing the censoring you want, please don’t go after us!”

    Which raises some delicate issues about “state action v. private action.”

    1. You still have the option of withdrawing from a site that censors in a way you object to, and building your own site(s) that censors according to your preferences.

      1. …followed by the option of dealing with govt regulators breathing down your neck.

        1. The Internet routes around blockages.

      2. Technically, this is quite true.
        Anyone with a couple of $10 billions can attempt to set up a competitor to Facebook or Twitter. They might even have a little success, before Google delists them or Cloudflare drops their DNS.

        In reality, though, it’s close to impossible. Notice that with all the money Microsoft has spent on Bing, they’ve only managed to score 20% of the English query market… and that’s WITH browser and OS tie-in. No one has managed any inroads against Facebook or Twitter in the English market – the best competitors have managed is about 0.1% of the Facebook/Twitter userbase.

        1. (If you’ll allow a little snark)…
          Bing is (in)famous in our home for “forcing” itself onto our computer. All of a sudden, Bing will have become my default search engine. I’ve never selected this–it’s always something that judge magically happens. I go into Firefox, deselect it, and things will be fine for 1-6 months, when it will happen again.

          So, I refuse to ever use Bing on religious grounds. Two friends have experienced the same thing, with similarly negative reactions.

          I totally get that your Bing reference was not the main point of your post. But this reply did allow me to vent my spleen a bit, and–given Bing’s actions (yes, I know Bing is not an actual actor)–I am happy to do my part to lower Bing’s market share even more.

          Whew. That felt good!

          1. Agreed; Google may be a monopoly, but Bing is malware.

            I wouldn’t even be troubled about Google being an effective monopoly, if it weren’t that they were exploiting it, and not just for financial gain. I have repeatedly noticed when doing politically fraught searches, that on some topics Google will just relentlessly not serve up the relevant result, but instead bury it several pages down below stuff that is clearly not responsive to the search. Some things you’re looking for on Google, you can’t find them unless you have an extensive quote to use in the search string.

            Then you go do the same search on DuckDuckGo, and the relevant result you were looking for just pops right up.

            Mind, this is only on politically fraught topics; I’m not fond of the way Google has dumbed down their parsing of search strings, but they’re still technically the better search engine if what you’re searching for isn’t political. That’s the only reason I still use them.

            1. A monopoly that you can easily avoid, and that you only continue to use because you believe it’s better in most respects, isn’t a monopoly. It’s just your preference.

        2. That’s not entirely true. There have been other major social media sites that have come and gone. Do you remember MySpace? It’s what Facebook supplanted.

          Also, historically speaking, Facebook and Twitter are still a relatively recent phenomena. Our culture and law are still feeling out the rules and norms for interaction. I expect yet more swings from harsh censorship to unrestrained speech over the coming years until we find the balance we like. Whether that will be regulating Facebook, Twitter and Google like common carriers, people threatening their ad and other revenue streams to force a modicum of political balance and civility, or anything else, is still far too early to ascertain.

          1. “That’s not entirely true. There have been other major social media sites that have come and gone. Do you remember MySpace? It’s what Facebook supplanted.”

            The PC industry dates back to 1981 (if you use the introduction of the IBM PC) or the late 70’s (if you use a different microcomputer to mark the start). In that time, there’s plenty of cases of one product more-or-less completely supplanting another one. PC-DOS killed CP/M. WordPerfect killed WordStar, and then was itself crushed by Word. 1-2-3 and Excel. Netscape Navigator to Internet Explorer to Chrome. Novell NetWare to Windows NT.

            The argument “but they’re big and established” doesn’t mean they can’t be replaced.

        3. “Anyone with a couple of $10 billions can attempt to set up a competitor to Facebook or Twitter.”

          So can anyone else with nothing but some friends who know how to code, a lot of time, and lots of cheap computing power.

          “In reality, though, it’s close to impossible.”

          It’s been done. Quit whining about how hard it is. If you don’t want it badly enough to put in the work, you don’t want it badly enough, end of story.

          1. No, it hasn’t been done.
            MySpace, despite being one of the first, never managed to scrape up even 1% of Facebook’s current traffic, much less Facebook’s peak traffic.
            This is not 1981 anymore, and getting 1000 users from a con passing your software around on floppies doesn’t make you one of the most popular applications on the planet.

            The fact you think that all it takes to create a website with a billion daily visitors and store/retrieve petabytes of data is “some friends who know how to code” shows you don’t know a damn thing about programming, servers, web traffic, or anything else in the industry.

            1. “No, it hasn’t been done.
              MySpace, despite being one of the first, never managed to scrape up even 1% of Facebook’s current traffic, much less Facebook’s peak traffic.”

              But Facebook did, right? Facebook has had more than 1% of Facebook’s current traffic, right? You might even say they managed to hit 100% of Facebook’s current traffic?

              If your argument includes claiming that Facebook doesn’t exist, I’m going to continue treating your argument as laughable.

              “The fact you think that all it takes to create a website with a billion daily visitors and store/retrieve petabytes of data is ‘some friends who know how to code’”

              That’s how Microsoft got started. Or, in your world, does Microsoft join Facebook in never having been invented?

              “you don’t know a damn thing about programming, servers, web traffic, or anything else in the industry.”

              I think I’m still ahead of you, since I, apparently unlike you, know that Facebook exists.

              1. Wow, you are an idiot.

                Here’s a hint: This is not 1981 any more. This is not 2004 anymore. The circumstances of the here and now are not like they were decades ago.

                Facebook and Twitter are firmly entrenched giants in an established market. MySpace, like Friendster, was one of many early social networks. It started a WHOLE YEAR before Facebook, which gave it the initial appearance of being large. But it never dominated, and the entire market of social networks was still emerging.

                Your suggestion is much like claiming that any two guys in a garage can compete with Boeing and Airbus, because that’s all it took in 1920 – ignorant and foolish.

                1. “Wow, you are an idiot.”

                  Are ALL idiots smarter than you, or just me?

        4. ” Notice that with all the money Microsoft has spent on Bing, they’ve only managed to score 20% of the English query market… and that’s WITH browser and OS tie-in.”

          So, if the existing services are perceived as badly as you imagine they are, people will flock to your newer, better product in uncounted millions. You’ve just established that being strongly entrenched, backed by a huge company, and available to billions of users isn’t enough to own the market.

  3. Does NYU often hold panels on things that don’t exist?

  4. Let’s just get rid of all the liberals. That will fix the problem.

  5. Yeah, the there’s way too much speech that I hate on social media. The answer, of course, is to give me the ability do ban people’s accounts on twitter.

    1. Meh. If you can convince the owners of Twitter that they should do so…

      There’s a couple of possible lines of attack. First, you go after the speech you hate that’s flat-out lies. Then, you go after the speech you hate that’s actually threatening violence. Then you go after the speech you hate that’s ideologically unpalatable to you by linking it to speech that everybody hates. For people on the left, you point out the similarities of the speech you hate to the speech of Nazis (actual ones, I mean, the ones from Germany in the 30’s and 40’s). For people on the right, you point out the similiarities of the speech you hate to the speech of Communists (actual ones, I mean).
      That last one, you have to be very careful and stay on message very tightly. If you accuse everything on the left as Communist or everything on the right as Nazi, you quickly get tuned out. You have to accurately show links that are meaningful and relevant.
      Of course, this sucks if you actually are a Communist or a Nazi, but then again, if this is how you discover how unpopular your ideas are, it’s about time.

  6. Professor Manta,

    Thank you very much for sharing your video. It was horrifying to hear you had received hate mail, and considering that frame of mind, took another look at a comment I had made previously. It was in very bad taste, considering the current circumstances, of which I am now aware. As I’m sure you are aware, the joke was made to appeal to our common humanity, and was not intended as a threat of any kind. We are all deserving of respect and dignity. Please accept my apology.

    Thanks,
    Jordan

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