People prefer platforms where they don’t get harassed

How many high-profile people have to leave a platform for it to realise that the inflated engagement metrics stemming from harassment activity are doing long term damage?

Vine, owned by Twitter, is experiencing a drop off in interest from the people who made visiting Vine fun. Washington Post reports on the change in Vine’s fortune. Brittany Furlan, one of Vine’s stars who truly launched their careers on the platform, said to WP:

A lot of people chose to leave Vine, including myself, because for me personally, it just turned into a very negative space. When I first started most of the comments were supportive, then as I gained followers things just got uglier and uglier and it didn’t seem like Vine was interested in doing anything about it. I was getting told to ‘kill myself’ on pretty much a daily basis, and already being someone who struggles with anxiety/depression, it just wasn’t a healthy environment for me anymore. … For some reason, the comments on Instagram and Facebook seem to be more positive.
— Brittany Furlan, from Vine’s top stars are fleeing, despite the app’s best attempts to keep them

Is it any surprise that creators would prefer to put their work on platforms where they don’t have to endure graphic threats?

Twitter has so far not responded to harassment on their platform by providing the tools that communities have been asking for, and is frequently criticised for this oversight. Only now, a full two years after the GamerGate harassment campaign started to appear in the news, there are rumours that a keyword-based tool is coming soon.

Instagram is building powerful anti-harassment tools for every user. Nextdoor, a social network for neighbours, is experimenting with different design approaches which in their tests reduced racist posts by 75%. Harassment and abuse aren’t unsolvable, and the Nextdoor example shows that the quality of content can be improved with the improved user experience as much as with the active community management.

In The Internet of Garbage Sarah Jeong suggests that the two-pronged approach is the way to solve the harassment problem.

“This is one example where architecture can operate in tandem with moderation. Code is never neutral; it can inhibit and enhance certain kinds of speech over others. Where code fails, moderation has to step in. Sometimes code ought to fail to inhibit speech, because that speech exists in a gray area. (Think: emails in the Gmail system that have not yet received a reputation rating.) But it’s delusional to think that architecture never has any effect on speech whatsoever. Technical and manual garbage-removal are two sides of the same coin, and must work together if garbage is to be taken (out) seriously.”
— Sarah Jeong, The Internet Of Garbage

If you’ve not yet read Jeong’s book, you really should. She notes the similarities and differences between harassment and spam. We’ve mostly ‘solved’ the spam problem. Sure, it still makes up a huge amount of traffic, but it’s nowhere near as visible as it used to be. It takes a huge amount of continuous effort to maintain the status quo, and yet this work gets done.

Platforms full of spam don’t tend to be the places where real people like to hang out, so nobody counts spam in their ‘engagement’ metrics. Turns out that people also don’t like being harassed and threatened. It’s surprising that not every platform is proactively working to remain a fun place to be online.