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hate speech

In 2015, Reddit decided to run some of the haters out of town.

Image by Rebecca Eisenberg/Upworthy.

The "homepage of the Internet," known for its wholesale embrace of free debate, banned several of its most notorious forums, including r/coontown, a hub for white supremacist jokes and propaganda, and r/fatpeoplehate, a board on which users heaped abuse on photos of fat people.


Critics accused the site of axing the subreddits for the "wrong" reasons — demonizing unpalatable speech rather than incitement to violence. Others worried the ban would be ineffective. Wouldn't the trolls just spew their hate elsewhere on the site?

Thanks to a group of Georgia Tech researchers, we now have evidence that the ban worked.

Their paper, "You Can’t Stay Here: The Efficacy of Reddit’s 2015 Ban Examined Through Hate Speech," found that not only did banning the forums prompt a large portion of its most dedicated users to leave the site entirely, the redditors who did stay "drastically [decreased] their hate speech usage."

The researchers analyzed over 650 million submissions and comments posted to the site between January and December 2015. After arriving at a definition for "hate speech," which they determined by pulling memes and phrases common to the two shuttered forums, they observed an 80% drop in racist and fat-phobic speech from the users who migrated to other subreddits after the ban. 20-40% of accounts that frequently posted to either r/coontown or r/fatpeoplehate became inactive or were deleted in that same period.

"Through the banning of subreddits which engaged in racism and fat-shaming, Reddit was able to reduce the prevalence of such behavior on the site," the paper's authors concluded.

The researchers have a few theories about why the ban may have worked.

Those who migrated to other subreddits, they speculate, became beholden to existing community norms that restricted their ability to speak hate freely.

Reddit co-founder and executive chairman Alexis Ohanian. Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images.

They also cite Reddit's effective removal of copycat forums (r/fatpeoplehate2, r/wedislikefatpeople, etc.) before they could reach critical mass.

Creating secure online spaces is a difficult problem. This new research provides at least one possible solution.

Any attempt to moderate an open web forum, the researchers argue, will inevitably have to balance protecting free expression with the right of people to exist on the internet without fear of abuse. A June Pew research poll found that 1 in 4 black Americans reported having been harassed online because of their race, compared with 3% of white Americans.

"The empirical work in this paper suggests that when narrowly applied to small, specific groups, banning deviant hate groups can work to reduce and contain the behavior," the authors wrote.

For vulnerable people who, like most, are living increasingly online lives, it's a small measure of relief.

Correction 9/13/17: This story was updated to identify Alexis Ohanian as Reddit's co-founder and executive chairman, not CEO.

"We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years," said former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in a leaked 2015 memo.

"It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day," he continued. "We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day."

It was a surprising admission about one of the service's biggest flaws. On Twitter, sharing other users' posts as easy as a single touch, but that also creates the opportunity for regular people going about their day on Twitter to wind up the target of harassment from thousands of other users at a moment's notice.


Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Since the memo leaked, Twitter has been trying to solve some of the more obvious problems by adding a quality filter meant to weed out threatening messages from spam accounts and creating a path to account verification. Still, these steps weren't enough, and the torrent of abuse its users experience was hurting the company financially.

This week, Twitter announced a number of new tools meant to address the abuse problem, and they look like they might be pretty helpful.

(Trigger warning: Hate speech and transphobic slurs follow below.)

For one, they're expanding the mute feature so users can opt out of conversations and notifications including certain words. This is a big step forward since one of the bigger problems targets of harassment deal with is the aftermath of a tweet that's getting too much attention from the wrong crowd.

More importantly, Twitter is clarifying its terms of service, making it easier for users to file a report, and providing training to support staff to ensure they're up to date on the latest policies. The hateful conduct policy bans abusive behavior targeting people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

What does online harassment look like, anyway? Here's some of what I get sent my way on a regular basis:

It's not especially fun, but while hurtful, it's usually not too bad.

Other times, though, the messages contain violent threats. For example (and this gets a little graphic):

The problem is that in many of these cases, there hasn't been anything a user could do to prevent these messages from coming.

You can block a single user, but once they've shared your tweet with everyone who follows them, chances are their followers will come after you. It's an infinite loop of blocking people. You can also report violent threats as abusive, but once Twitter goes through the process of reviewing the report, they often reply with a simple note saying that the tweets reported didn't violate their terms of service.

This is by no means limited to Twitter. Facebook has a similar problem with its reporting process, coming off as ineffective and sometimes arbitrary.

It's all somewhat understandable. As businesses, Facebook and Twitter have to find a balance between protecting free and open speech and shielding users from harm. Within hours of the announcement of new anti-harassment tools, Twitter suspended a number of high-profile accounts known for engaging in targeted harassment — that's certainly a start.

With new technology changing our world all the time, it's important that we remember to treat one another as human beings. Anti-bullying efforts will play a crucial role in years to come.

Whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, or in virtual reality spaces, online privacy and harassment protection plays an important role in society. It's easy to forget that there is a real human being on the other end of these online conversations. It's easy to treat them as undeserving of respect. It's easy to lose empathy for the world.

It's harder to do the right thing, but that doesn't change that it is, in fact, the right thing.

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In spite of himself, Trump is motivating the group he seems to hate the most.

New data suggest that Trump's rise is driving more immigrants than ever before to become U.S. citizens.

Thanks to a decisive victory in the Indiana primary and the suspension of Ted Cruz's campaign, Donald Trump is pretty likely to secure the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

The online reaction thus far has been... Let's call it "disappointed."



Trump has been spewing hateful rhetoric since the day he announced his campaign.

He's referred to immigrants as "rapists," "criminals," and "killers." He regularly responds to female opposition with sexist, misogynistic attacks. He not only witnessed the unjustifiable violence that punctuated many of his rallies, but he encouraged it.


He's also talked about his hands. Like ... a lot.

But believe it or not, Trump's hate speech has inspired some really positive movement from the group he appears to despise most: immigrants.

Similar to how gun-owners often stockpile weapons and ammunition following a gun-related tragedy — because they're worried gun safety legislation will make guns and ammo harder to buy — Trump's political ascension and his promise to enlist a "deportation force" to exile some 11 million undocumented immigrants has led to an unlikely but significant increase in the number of immigrants applying for citizenship here in the United States.

A May 1, 2016, May Day march. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

According to the The New York Times, naturalization applications spiked by 14% in the last half of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. And they're on pace to break records for 2016 as well.

One immigrant, Edgar Ospina, told the Associated Press that the anti-immigrant sentiment being stirred up by Trump's rise was the driving force behind his decision to apply for naturalization.

An owner of a small flooring and kitchen remodeling company, Ospina emigrated from Columbia over 20 years ago and became eligible for citizenship in 1990, but he has only recently decided there is no time left to waste.

A large group waits to take the citizenship oath that will allow them to become U.S. citizens in 2015. Photo by Saul Loeb, AFP, Getty Images.

"Trump is dividing us as a country," Ospina told. "He's so negative about immigrants. We've got to speak up."

Luis Gutiérrez, a 10-term U.S. Representative from Illinois, also took to the public airwaves to encourage immigrants to apply for citizenship so they can vote in November.

"We want to raise our voices because the city of Chicago has an incredibly proud tradition of being inclusive, of bringing people together," Gutierrez said during a protest last month. "And Mr. Trump has the tradition of division, of hatred, of bigotry, of prejudice. We are asking all of Chicago to stand up."

Another unforeseen silver lining to Trump's campaign of hate? The reimagining of the Republican party.

Trump might be the Republican party's nominee for this year's political race, but he couldn't be further from what many members of the party consider to be the true embodiment of Republican ideals.

Image via Saul Loeb, AFP, Getty Images.

He waffles often on his stances, appearing to support gay marriage, calling out North Carolina's ridiculous HB2 bill, and supporting both universal health care and higher taxes for the wealthy. In fact, he's even gone on record in the past as saying, "In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.”

As a result, more and more Americans are being forced to rethink what the Republican party means to them, and some people are even deregistering from the party.


Trump has been such a divisive figure among Republicans that he even led to the dissolution of the Friends of Abe, a "secret society" of conservative Hollywood elites.

All of this just goes to show that hate can still inspire good, even when that hate comes from the darkest of sources.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images