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Twitter has a hate speech problem

Big Tech This Week
Twitter has a hate speech problem
By Fatu Ogwuche • Issue #30 • View online
Top of mind: Happy Sunday!
If you were on Twitter this week, you’d have seen the conversation that broke the internet about the existential love-hate relationship between Africans and African Americans. We won’t debate the content of the conversation but focus specifically on tech’s responsibility or lack of in regulating content that could potentially lead to real-world harm.
Let’s get to it.
3 big things:
  • Twitter’s content problem
  • Spotify backs Rogan
  • Twitter launches NFTs

Should Twitter have kept #SecureTheTribe Spaces conversation on?
Image credit: Social Samosa
Image credit: Social Samosa
The short: #SecuretheTribe – a controversial Twitter Spaces conversation bordering on hate towards African & Caribbean immigrant groups topped Twitter trends last week. The big question was – does immigration benefit “Foundational Black Americans”? We aren’t here to discuss the content of the debate. But should Twitter have done something about this conversation? 
What’s more: The xenophobic conversation, co-hosted by “conspiracy buff” (per NYTimes), Tariq Nasheed, was dominated by harmful rhetoric, including intermittent breaks for calls to arms against immigrants (read: Africans). Central to the discussion was the false narrative that black immigrant populations decimate the chances of foundational black Americans succeeding in the U.S. Yikes.
So it begs the question: how does Twitter handle harmful content?
Big picture: Twitter has a hate speech problem. Company insiders raised concerns over the audio platform’s plan to moderate content ahead of its hurried launch in May 2021 and knew it would be a significant issue in coming months. Newsflash: Twitter had no plan.
According to a Washington Post report in December 2021, Spaces has become home to all manner of hateful content – from the Taliban to white nationalists and anti-vaxxers. Besides technology limitations that prevent Twitter from hearing audio conversations and moderating harmful content, the company lacks human moderators to listen in on Spaces conversations on the platform.
In December, Twitter rolled out a new reporting process, “symptoms-first”, to make reporting harmful content more efficient. However, the feature is limited, and it is too early to decide if the process has been effective. 
Defending Free Speech: The issue of content moderation has remained a significant debate between free speech activists and several Big Tech companies. Hardline “Free Speech” proponents would argue that Twitter should not censor the Tariq-hosted conversation since both sides had a chance to pass their point of view across. But, lest we forget, earlier this week, Substack published its decision to resist the demands for censorship, upholding the need to allow “hard conversations” exist on social platforms.
Final thoughts: Despite several users reporting Tariq’s Space, Twitter kept the conversation going for 19+ hours – which means one of two things – first is that the platform’s reporting system is broken, or the second is that Twitter’s reviewers believed that the conversation did not constitute a threat. I find either of both instances troubling.
What do you think Twitter should have done? Respond to this email or tweet at me {@fatuogwuche} with your strong opinions. I can take it.
Spotify backs controversial host Joe Rogan in censorship war
Joe Rogan (L), Neil Young (R) | Image credit: TS
Joe Rogan (L), Neil Young (R) | Image credit: TS
The short: Rock icon Neil Young issued a “him or me” threat to Spotify, requesting that the streaming platform drop Joe Rogan’s podcast, or he’ll pull his music. Well, Spotify responded by siding with Joe Rogan.
What’s more: Along with his equally polarizing guests, Spotify’s controversial poster boy, Rogan, has been sharing harmful content about COVID-19 vaccines, and the streaming company has said nothing. So, Young issued an open letter on Monday demanding that Spotify fix up or get his entire catalogue off the platform in defiance. You guessed right. Young took a walk.
Why it matters: Spotify has a Joe Rogan headache, but the company heavily invested in the controversial talent, which cost the platform more than $100 million for exclusive licensing rights. Pretty tough ask from Young to Spotify to burn all that invested cash.
The numbers behind Spotify’s decision: 
  • “The Joe Rogan Experience” (JRE) is the world’s largest podcast with 11 million listeners per episode, with almost 200 million downloads per month. 
  • Spotify recorded a 28 million increase in paid subscribers when it signed Rogan. 
  • Advertising on Joe Rogan attracts a $1 million minimum spend.
The backlash: Spotify’s decision to keep Rogan over Young cost the company a $2 billion loss in market value. Sheesh.
Big Picture: Spotify has stayed away from the censorship topic by claiming they’re not the arbiters of truth. It has historically removed hate music, but its policies on handling content of this nature are largely unknown. Still, Rogan has continued to bring controversial guests, including COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, to the platform. 
Final Thoughts: Spotify’s decision to stick with Rogan on “creative freedom” grounds has earned praise and condemnation. But, it will have to deal with its Rogan headache in the future – especially when the JRE could significantly put its millions of listeners at risk. 
Twitter’s new NFT feature could give it a lifeline
Image credit: Twitter
Image credit: Twitter
The short: For $2.99, subscribers to Twitter’s new paid feature, Twitter Blue, can now display authentic non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as their profile pictures. 
Know this: An NFT profile links the user’s crypto wallet, thus making wallet transaction details public. This is a whole new level of validation. But only users with iOS devices can access the offering at the moment.
In addition, Twitter changed its default circular display picture – the NFT profile photos have a hexagonal shape. Other perks of signing up for the Blue feature include tweet-preview, reader mode, and bookmark folders.
So is everybody else: Twitter’s dedicated NFT team shows that the platform takes the Web3 media asset seriously. But it isn’t making these moves alone. In last week’s newsletter, I reported on Facebook’s NFT push and Microsoft’s via the acquisition of Activision. No tech company wants to be left behind.
Final thoughts: NFTs are the trend now. Expect every tech company to make an NFT or metaverse play in the coming years. Last year, over $24.9 billion of NFTs were sold, and many say these are still early days for this asset class.
Plus, Twitter is home to many blockchain enthusiasts, and the company might finally turn around its struggling business with this move. 
That’s it for the week. Please do us a solid by sharing the newsletter with your network of tech enthusiasts. Invite them to join the party :)
See you next Sunday!
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Fatu Ogwuche

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