Members of Parliament Grill Facebook and Twitter About Online Abuse

Recently, Facebook and Twitter came under fire for how these social media networks deal with online abuse against those in parliament.

Members of parliament made the case that Facebook and Twitter’s low reaction or no reactions to such hostility were actually undermining democratic principles.

The chair of the Human Rights Committee, Harriet Harman, said that “There is a strong view amongst MPs generally that what is happening with social media is a threat to democracy.”

In response, Twitter representative, Katy Minshall, noted that it is “unacceptable” that Twitter had solely relied on users to flag inappropriate content in the past. While she noted that there was more for Twitter to do yet, the site’s response to abuse has improved.

In rebuttle, SNP MP, Joanna Cherry, referenced specific tweets with abusive content that were not quickly removed by Twitter.

One of her examples had only been taken down the previous evening when Cherry and journalist/activist Caroline Criado Perez had drawn attention to the tweet.

Minshall’s reply was: “I think that’s absolutely an undesirable situation.”

While Twitter remained vague about their promises and stance, Cherry continued to lay into the site, claiming that Twitter only reviews its choices when pressured by the public.

The MPs also called into question how effective Twitter’s automated algorithms are for identifying abusive content.

For example, only 15% of two million pieces of offensive content are correctly identified, as in breach of Facebook’s rules.

As noted by Facebook’s UK head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, “for the rest you need a human being to have a look at it at the moment to make that judgement.”

Both Stimson (Facebook) and Minshall (Twitter) have noted that their social networks are working to improve their systems and creating better tools to flag and block abusive content proactively, possibly even before posting.

Eric Silver

Eric Silver

Eric Silver is a veteran technology blogger and startup enthusiast that's been covering the global technology scene since the most advanced phones were still folding in half.