Trolls, Hate Speech, & Misinformation

If you have ever scrolled through any social media platform, there is a high likelihood you have seen one of these three negative interactions: trolling, hate speech (e.g. hostility), and/or misinformation. Having an active social media profile, especially with high follower numbers, increases your chances of having one of these actions done to you. One common platform that has its’ fill of trolling and misinformation is TikTok. This platform has skyrocketed in numbers of users since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns. With the variety of current events that have occurred within the past year (such as pandemic-related information, George Floyd’s murder and following protests, and the US 2020 election), there has been no shortage of misinformation that is posted by millions of users related to these events. This can be very detrimental in many ways. However, TikTok is taking action against these spews of misinformation. The following article discusses the over 90 million videos that they have removed from their global platform in the second half of 2020 alone. The majority of the misinformation-related removals were tied to the US presidential election or Covid-19 information.

Given the relevance of this topic in our daily (digital) lives, I found many takeaways from the readings for this week. The first takeaway is that the concept of trolling can be hard to define and be precived in the same way by all people. Evita March discusses in her article that trolling is percieved differently by many people . In 2001, trolling was defined as “luring others online (commonly on discussion forums) into pointless and time-consuming activities” (March, 2019). This drastically differs from the common terms associated with trolling now: harassment, bullying, malicious, etc. Researchers propose replacing this “catch-all” term with a more accurate substitute: cyberabuse. Regardless of what term this action falls under, the perpitrators still cause just as much harm to victims.

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Another takeaway is that cyberabuse (e.g. trolling) is predicted to continue and probably worsen as time goes on. Bailey Poland poses that the new big challenge in the digital world will be “ finding an appropriate balance between protecting anonymity and enforcing consequences for the abusive behavior that has been allowed to characterize online discussions for far too long” . This shows that actions need to be taken by social media platforms and awareness needs to be raised about cyberbullying in order to prevent further growth.

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