Twitter to Hire Researchers to Audit itself on Toxicity

Twitter, Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) experienced a dip in the monthly users last week, confirmed in its second quarter earnings report. Twitter said it was due to the Company’s crackdown on fake accounts, purged suspicious accounts, removal of apps and extra verification steps all in efforts to prioritize the health of their immensely popular platform. Twitter has faced lengthy criticism for its method of handling abuse and content removal, keeping in mind that it must consider users right of free speech.

In March, Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, acknowledged the need for a new approach towards handling health on the platform and asked for proposals through the Twitter platform. Dorsey’s goal is to use a "rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics" to measure the platform's health. Since March, they received 230 proposals from around the globe. The finalists were chosen in July with winners from universities around the world including professors from Syracuse University, Leiden University, Delft University and Bocconi University.

The first proposal selected comprises a research team led by Rebekah Tromble, an assistant professor of political science at Leiden University. This team will investigate echo chambers, uncivil discourse and how toxic speech is created. They will develop two sets of metrics; one will gauge the degree in which people participate in discourse among those with dissimilar perspectives, the other will create an algorithm to track the difference between disagreement or incivility and intolerance or hate speech.

The second proposal will comprise of a smaller team led by University of Oxford professors Mile Hewstone and John Gallacher and University of Amsterdam’s Marc Heerdink. This team will examine how prejudice and discrimination can be decreased through exposure to diverse perspectives on Twitter. Hewstone said, “evidence from social psychology has shown how communication between people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways to decrease prejudice and discrimination. We’re aiming to investigate how this understanding can be used to measure the health of conversations on Twitter, and whether the effects of positive online interaction carry across to the offline world.”

Twitter has not released any timeline, calling this “a very ambitious task” that the teams are starting.

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