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World’s largest tech companies pressured into hate speech purge

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Popular internet platforms including YouTube, Twitch and Reddit have purged channels and forums associated with hate speech and threats of violence as the pressure piles on tech companies to take social responsibility for offensive user-generated content.

Facebook in particular has been criticised in recent weeks over its refusal to remove some high-profile content (most notably content posted by US President Donald Trump) which appeared to breach its user guidelines, despite rival network Twitter taking affirmative action against identical content posted there.

A campaign backed by the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP, 'Stop Hate for Profit' – which calls on high-profile companies to boycott technology platforms over their continued accommodation of hate groups – has encouraged many of them to temporarily suspend their payments for Facebook advertising. Among the household names to suspend their advertising on Facebook - as well as on its subsidiary, Instagram - are Ford, Starbucks, Verizon, Clorox, Adidas, North Face, Unilever, Levi Strauss, HP, Coca-Cola, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Hershey’s and Honda.

Microsoft is also now reported to be suspending its advertising with Facebook over the latter's failure to act against “inappropriate content”. The boycott, which includes many of Facebook’s most lucrative customers, caused Facebook’s share price to drop by eight per cent on Friday, wiping billions off CEO Mark Zuckerberg's personal wealth and causing him to drop one place in the list of the world's richest people.

In response, Facebook has now taken some steps to tackle inappropriate content, such as hate speech and misinformation – such as by pledging to label rule-breaking posts – although the ongoing withdrawal of advertisers as more companies join the campaign would suggest that more drastic action is expected.

This week, Facebook launched a campaign in association with Full Fact to encourage users to check the reliability of news content, such as by reading beyond headlines, checking the source, and spotting emotionally manipulative language. It has also banned adverts containing claims that people with certain protected characteristics (race, religion or sexual orientation) are a threat to others.

Social media platform Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites, has announced a new set of rules around hate speech and purged thousands of subreddits (forum-like sections dedicated to certain topics) considered to be hateful or consistently rule-breaking. Notably, the most popular subreddit dedicated to Trump (r/The_Donald) was removed after a year under quarantine for rule-breaking, including explicit incitements of violence.

Among its new rules, Reddit will now restrict posts containing hate speech, such as posts mocking people with disabilities; characterising ethnic minorities as sub-human; defending rape, or saying that ethnic minorities should be stripped of voting rights.

Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch took action against hate speech by suspending an account run by the Trump campaign for breaking its rules on “hateful conduct”. One of the rule-breaking videos featured Trump in 2015 claiming that Mexico is sending rapists to the US, while a more recent video featured Trump describing a fictional “very tough hombre” breaking into an American woman’s home.

Twitch said in a statement that it would not make exceptions for “political or newsworthy content”. It is not known how long the suspension will last.

Meanwhile, Google-owned YouTube has banned a handful of high-profile white supremacist channels, including channels belonging to US neo-Nazi Richard Spencer; former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and Canadian conspiracy theorist Stefan Molyneux. YouTube said that these channels had repeatedly claimed that members of protected groups were inferior, among other violations.

YouTube said in a statement: “We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies.”

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