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Twitter Phone

Can’t Twitter try and be a bit less toxic?

Twitter Phone

Can’t Twitter try and be a bit less toxic?

Twitter may recently have banned the accounts of certain hate-pedlars in an attempt to clean up its image, but one of its trending hashtags yesterday raises questions about whether the microblogging social media site could be taking a more responsible role in preventing hatred spreading.

Yesterday afternoon, I spotted an inclusion in Twitter’s ‘Trends for you’ column that rather took me by surprise.

Twitter image 1

Yes, #backtowork was always likely to be included, giving the fascinating and imaginative level of discourse that often crops up on social media and that fact that we’re all clearly dull enough to tweet our own office small talk. A Jeremy Corbyn ‘scandal’ is never too far away from the news, and there are a few sport-related trends like Joel Matip (football), Ronnie O’Sullivan (snooker) and Lingfield (horseracing) that I might want to jump on to. What’s that second one down though? Why is Twitter suggesting #PunishAMuslimDay as a ‘trend for me’?

National days crop up regularly on Twitter, but usually it’s something pretty harmless like tea, popcorn or violins. These give a great opportunity for imaginative businesses to latch onto a trend. Is it not a bit strange though for something that so clearly targets a certain group though to be classed as a trend?

The hashtag has been spawned by this story about Islamophobic letters doing the rounds. In covering the story, the Evening Standard did at least take the trouble to blank out the exact date and hopefully discourage people from participating in the day. No such discretion from Twitter though, which was happy to remind everyone that this day fell on April 3rd, and invited us all to have a good old tweet about it.

By 2:30pm yesterday, over 30,000 people had. Most of them, in fairness, were speaking out against the day, and some were unhappy that Twitter seemed to be allowing or arguably even promoting it.

I think this is another example of how Twitter’s brevity is both its strength and its weakness. Something as provocative as #PunishAMuslimDay should not just be sitting there at the side of my newsfeed with no explanation. That’s allowing extremism to drift into the mainstream.

If people are talking about it, then it is a ‘trend’, but Twitter needs to be a moderator. If a hashtag like that is to be listed as a trend, it should be accompanied by an explanation. Otherwise, it creates a toxic environment where social media users simply see a hashtag and react, helping a deplorable idea to thrive.

Whoever set up ‘Punish A Muslim Day’ got exactly what they wanted – a community feeling threatened and a load of social media users at each other’s throats. And Twitter helped it happen.

John Murray

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