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Twitter wants to know why Twitter is so toxic

Twitter wants to know why Twitter is so toxic
[Photo: HeteroSapiens/Pixabay]

With the 2016 election behind us, social networks like Twitter and Facebook—under fire for spreading misinformation and breeding incivility—are trying to take action.

Facebook, for instance, has been cracking down on its advertising program in an attempt to halt future Cambridge Analyticas from hijacking user data. Twitter is also looking to change things up. It recently asked academics to submit proposals about ways it can better measure how it contributes (or doesn’t contribute) to public discourse. It received over 230 proposals, and has been narrowing down the finalists for the last four months.

This morning, Twitter announced two academic partnerships to help the company better understand how to fix its political toxicity problem:

  • One project–spearheaded by a professor at Leiden University–will create metrics around how groups form during political conversations and the incivility and intolerance that comes from these communities.
  • The second project–from professors at the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam–will study “how people use Twitter, and how exposure to a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can decrease prejudice and discrimination.”

Both projects aim to help us understand why online discussion can turn so toxic, as well as figure out ways to better measure these phenomena. The hope is that with more understanding about what leads to online incivility, perhaps Twitter can fix the problem. Of course, it has been said before that Twitter’s very design makes it a haven for trolling and incivility, so any such fix will be a heavy lift to say the least.

You can read the full Twitter announcement here.

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