News, Culture & Society

How social media algorithms ‘promote hate’

Social media platforms promote misogynistic and violent content towards users who already show signs of hostility towards women, a BBC investigation has revealed.  

In Online Abuse: Why Do You Hate Me?, which airs tonight at 9pm, journalist Marianna Spring creates a fake online persona for a man named ‘Barry’, giving him profiles on social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook. 

Through ‘liking’ pages, watching videos and commenting on posts, Marianna was able to build up a digital footprint for ‘Barry’ that mimicked those of the trolls who frequently target her on social media. 

‘Like my trolls, Barry was mainly interested in anti-vax content and conspiracy theories, and followed a small amount of anti-women content,’ she explained. ‘He also posted some abuse on his profile – so that the algorithms could detect from the start he had an account that used abusive language about women.’

Social media platforms promote misogynistic and violent content towards users who already show signs of hostility towards women, a BBC investigation has revealed. The documentary hears from Love Island star Kaz, pictured, who discusses the racist abuse she has received

After just a week, the top recommended pages to follow on both Facebook and Instagram were almost all hostile to women. 

By the end of the experiment, the profile was pushed more and more anti-women content by these sites – a significant increase from when the account had been created. 

Some of this content involved sexual violence, sharing disturbing memes about sex acts, and content condoning rape, harassment and gendered violence. 

Social media expert, Chloe Colliver, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, who advised Panorama on the fake profile experiment said: ‘The platforms themselves sent the majority of this content themselves and selected it, curated it and targeted it. 

‘So if this profile were a real person, it would have been brought into a hateful community full of misogynistic content very, very quickly within two weeks.’  

It comes as research by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, conducted from Panorama, shows how 97 per cent of accounts sending misogynistic abuse on Twitter and Instagram remained on the site after being reported.

Twitter and Instagram say they take action when their rules are violated and closing accounts isn’t the only option. 

Love Island star Kaz Kamwi, 26, told the programme: 'The most difficult abuse to receive is any that is racially motivated'. Pictured, the reality TV star strikes a pose ahead of this year's show

Love Island star Kaz Kamwi, 26, told the programme: ‘The most difficult abuse to receive is any that is racially motivated’. Pictured, the reality TV star strikes a pose ahead of this year’s show

Researchers from think-tank Demos analysed more than 90,000 negative posts and comments directed at contestants on two reality TV Shows this year – Love Island and Married At First Sight UK – and found women received far more hate than men. The abuse was even more pronounced towards women of colour. 

Love Island star Kaz Kamwi, 26, told the programme: ‘The most difficult abuse to receive is any that is racially motivated. When you look at me, I am a dark skinned black woman, that’s the first thing you see.

‘My Instagram, that’s my work place. No one walks into their office and has people yelling abuse at them, do they?’ Kaz explains. ‘So why shouldn’t it be the same thing on my Instagram?’ 

Kaz’s sister Banji monitored the fashion blogger’s social media accounts while she was in the villa. 

Although most of the comments were positive, there was also a lot of abuse. She says the hate was so bad at points, she posted a message telling people to stop: ‘It was just too much to take, so I just thought let me just put the message out there and with the response from that like it was more positive than negative.’

Medical student Priya Gopaldas, 23, pictured with journalist Marianna Spring on the documentary, also received gendered slurs and racist hate on social media

Medical student Priya Gopaldas, 23, pictured with journalist Marianna Spring on the documentary, also received gendered slurs and racist hate on social media

Medical student Priya Gopaldas, 23, also received gendered slurs and racist hate: ‘I got words thrown at me – s**t, w***e – those kind of words that a man definitely wouldn’t have had.’

Ellen Judson, senior researcher at Demos, said: ‘People were using explicitly gendered slurs – women being manipulative, women being sneaky, sexual, evil or stupid whereas what we saw with men was men being attacked for seemingly not being masculine enough, for being too weak. 

‘We also see that contestants who are women of colour are receiving more pernicious attacks based on their race.’

Facebook which also owns Instagram, told the BBC it tries not to recommend content that breaks its rules and is improving its technology ‘to find and remove abuse more quickly’. It has also just announced new measures to tackle sexualised hate targeting journalists, politicians and celebrities.

Watch BBC Panorama Online Abuse: Why Do You Hate Me? tonight on BBC One at 7.30pm 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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