Sisyphus Gets a Digital Task: Defining Hate Speech, Fake News, and Illegal Material

January 2, 2018

I read “Germany Starts Enforcing Hate Speech Law.” From my point of view in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, defining terms and words is tough. When I was a debate team member, our coach Kenneth Camp insisted that each of the “terms” in our arguments and counter arguments be defined. When I went to college and joined the debate team, our coach — a person named George Allen — added a new angle to the rounded corners of definitions. The idea was “framing.” As I recall, one not only defined terms, but one selected factoids, sources, and signs which would  put our opponents in a hen house from which one could escape with scratches and maybe a nasty cut or two.

The BBC and, of course, the author of the article, Germany, and the lawmakers were not thinking about definitions (high school), framing (setting up the argument so winning was easier), or the nicks and bumps incurred when working free of the ramshackle structure.

The write up states:

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material.

So what’s hate speech, fake news, and illegal material? The BBC does not raise this question.

I noted:

Germany’s justice ministry said it would make forms available on its site, which concerned citizens could use to report content that violates NetzDG or has not been taken down in time.

And what do the social media outfits have to do?

As well as forcing social media firms to act quickly, NetzDG requires them to put in place a comprehensive complaints structure so that posts can quickly be reported to staff.

Is a mini trend building in the small pond of clear thinking? The BBC states:

The German law is the most extreme example of efforts by governments and regulators to rein in social media firms. Many of them have come under much greater scrutiny this year as information about how they are used to spread propaganda and other sensitive material has come to light. In the UK, politicians have been sharply critical of social sites, calling them a “disgrace” and saying they were “shamefully far” from doing a good job of policing hate speech and other offensive content. The European Commission also published guidelines calling on social media sites to act faster to spot and remove hateful content.

Several observations:

  1. I am not sure if there are workable definitions for the concepts. I may be wrong, but point of view, political orientation, and motivation may be spray painting gray over already muddy concepts.
  2. Social media giants do not have the ability to move quickly. I would suggest that the largest of these targeted companies are not sure what is happening amidst their programmers, algorithms, and marketing professionals. How can one react quickly when one does not know who, what, or where an action occurs.
  3. Attempts to shut down free flowing information will force those digital streams into the murky underground of hidden networks with increasingly labyrinthine arabesques of obfuscation used to make life slow, expensive, and frustrating for enforcement authorities.

Net net: We know that the BBC does  not think much about these issues; otherwise, a hint of the challenges would have filtered into the write up. We know that the legislators are interested in getting control of social media communications, and filtering looks like a good approach. We know that the social media “giants” are little more than giant, semi-organized ad machines designed to generate data and money. We know that those who allegedly create and disseminate “hate speech, fake news and illegal material” will find communication channels, including old fashioned methods like pinning notes on a launderette’s bulletin board or marking signs on walls.

Worth watching how these “factors” interact, morph, and innovate.

Stephen E Arnold, January 2, 2018


2 Responses to “Sisyphus Gets a Digital Task: Defining Hate Speech, Fake News, and Illegal Material”

  1. Beaver Shot on January 7th, 2018 10:03 pm

    I was astonished with how you presented this post. I will absolutely share it to my friends. Thanks for your effort in {writing this blog.

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    […] propaganda in U.S. and the U.K., several tech firms and other organizations have taken aim at false information online. What about Factmata has piqued the interest of leading investors? We’re […]

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