Content Moderation Case Study: Reclaiming A Hashtag (2020)

from the culture-wars dept

Summary: The Proud Boys, a group with a history of violent interactions, often in support of Donald Trump, received prominent attention during the first Presidential debate of 2020 between Trump and Joe Biden. Upon being asked about whether or not he would condemn white supremacist groups that support him, Trump asked for an example. When given The Proud Boys, Trump told them to “stand back and stand by,” which many in the group took to be an endorsement of their activities.

While the group has long denied that its views are racist, the group has long said that it is based around “Western chauvinism” and has been repeatedly associated with violence and white supremacist groups and individuals. Both Twitter and Facebook banned the group in 2018.

However, after they received renewed attention at the 2020 debate, actor George Takei suggested “reclaiming” the #ProudBoys hashtag, and using it to promote the LGBTQ community instead, saying that they could respond to hate with love.

This made the hashtag go viral on a variety of platforms, including Twitter and Instagram (owned by Facebook). In response Facebook was accused (incorrectly) of only just blocking the hashtag after this attempt at reclaiming. However, Facebook exec Andy Stone noted that the opposite was true, and that Facebook was currently in the process of unbanning the hashtag after seeing how it had been reclaimed, and the meaning and usage changed.

Decisions to be made by Facebook:

  • Is banning an entire hashtag appropriate?
  • When do you ban a hashtag associated with violence and bigotry?
  • How do you decide when to reverse such a ban, if the hashtag has been “reclaimed” by groups seeking to promote counter-messaging?
  • How do you avoid having that unbanned hashtag abused again at a later date?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • How do you create policies for situations that may change over time?
  • How do you handle situations in which the meanings of words and terms may change as other people make use of them?
  • Will banning hashtags or phrases act to prevent this kind of bottom up behavior?
Resolution: By moving quickly, Facebook and Instagram were able to relatively quickly allow for this viral response to reclaim the hashtag from the group. However, it remains an open question whether or not this usage will stay, or if the group will move to reclaim it as well, creating a constant cat & mouse scenario for a content moderation team.

Originally published on the Trust & Safety Foundation website

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Filed Under: content moderation, george takei, hashtags, hate groups, proud boys, reclaiming
Companies: facebook


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 4:58pm

    After the Maz has decided are RACIST and connected to TRUMP...

    ...then only question is what punishment is appropriate.

    It's easy once you've labeled. No need for nuance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 4:58pm

      Re: After the Maz has decided are RACIST and connected to TRUMP.

      Just taking away a hash mark isn't enough. Re-education on a communal farm would be humanitarian, but they're not just misguided. Clearly they deserve lynching.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:04pm

    Maz, how are YOU not racist-ish when simply label people?

    You pre-load this with your usual ad hominem attack -- including association with Trump -- and thus the conclusion would be inevitable.

    Is THAT the kind of "moderation" you advocate for Facebook?

    Yes, it is.

    It's what I get here: labeled, classified as unacceptable according to your leftist notions, and so you okay attacking me, besides that YOU or Administrator okay the "hiding". -- It's NOT "the community", and in any case, there's no visible standard for NOT offending whoever controls the hiding. Techdirt, to say the least, isn't at all transparent, even though pretend you're Solomon and advise vastly larger sites. Sheesh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:11pm

      Re: Maz, how are YOU not racist-ish when simply label people?

      Sir, this is an Arby's.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:13pm

      Re: Maz, how are YOU not racist-ish when simply label people?

      Hello. I, a member of the community, have flagged your post. My personal reason?

      Spam.

      Have a nice day.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 11:26pm

      Re: Maz, how are YOU not racist-ish when simply label people?

      It has nothing to do with anyone being leftist, nor with anyone being offended.

      It's entirely to do with your comments being a pointless and stupid waste of space.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 12:17am

      Re: Maz, how are YOU not racist-ish when simply label people?

      "there's no visible standard for NOT offending whoever controls the hiding"

      There certainly is. Why you refuse to see it is anyone's guess, especially since we keep explaining it to you, but it's certainly there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:10pm

    By the way, "Proud Boys" look like another front to discredit.

    I've never seen them regarded positively on ANY of the "conservative" sites I read. They're just ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:10pm

      Re: By the way, "Proud Boys" look like another front t

      It's standard tactic of Nazis / leftists / non-conservatives to do false flags -- eine der erste ist Kristallnacht, nicht wahr? -- and so too is the FBI known for agentes provocateurs.

      And the USE for leftists to taint Trump is obvious, you put it right in YOUR first paragraph.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2020 @ 4:12am

        Re: Re: By the way, "Proud Boys" look like another fro

        Flagging is not a "disagree" button. It seems to be overused by the commenters on this site. (Kinda ironic that it's happening on a content moderation case study, too.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 4:20am

          Re: Re: Re: By the way, "Proud Boys" look like another

          "Flagging is not a "disagree" button"

          No, flagging is described as marking something as "abusive/trolling/spam", and this idiot regularly fits all 3 categories at once.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:15pm

    Curious: do you REALLY believe that you're effective with these?

    Skip that you're not at all objective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:16pm

      Re: Curious: do you REALLY believe that you're effective with th

      Just do you actually believe that preaching -- not even to the choir, but to the most fanatical fanboys that are you have left after stifling reasoned dissent here -- has any utility?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:16pm

      Re: Curious: do you REALLY believe that you're effective with th

      We all know your views. You need only write the headline and we all KNOW your take. Do you think that you're persuading anyone?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mr Cul-de-sac live from 9 Begonia Close, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:20pm

      Re: Curious: do you REALLY believe that you're effective with th

      Wouldn't go in as a whole, so pieced up. Blame Maz.

      You can all SEE Maz's actual daily practice of censoring opinion that doesn't like. He's sure not for "Free Speech" now, if EVER was.

      But he keeps pretending that "moderation is hard" when means that sites find it difficult to HIDE their censoring / viewpoint discrimination.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:33pm

        Please see a doctor, as you are exhibiting signs of possible brain damage.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:37pm

        Re: Re: Curious: do you REALLY believe that you're effective wit

        Stop spamming the site, and your comments won't get caught by the spam filter. Stop acting like a complete jackass and people won't vote down your comments. This isn't hard.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Dec 2020 @ 5:45pm

    Get a hint. Please.

    "It's standard tactic of Nazis / leftists / non-conservatives to do false flags -- eine der erste ist Kristallnacht, nicht wahr? -- and so too is the FBI known for agentes provocateurs"

    Im centrist, Im a 3rd or 4th party. And you cant keep a solid comment in your own head. WRITE IT DOWN, MAKE 1 POST of all these random posts.
    Then try not to insult people. Insult/explain/describe the Main post/subject.

    you are worse then I am, and I have reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 7:40pm

      Re: Get a hint. Please.

      I do love getting to a thread late and having all of his insane spittle already "hidden". All I have to read are the [pointless] responses to know why they're hidden. I don't have to read them myself. It's pretty awesome.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      AC Unknown (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 5:29pm

      Re: Get a hint. Please.

      You realize that he's never gonna listen to you, because he's a troll trying to trigger you. Just flag and move on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Dec 2020 @ 11:11pm

    'Why, what else does that name mean?

    Now that is how you stick it to a group of losers.

    "'Proud boys'? Oh, that tag associated with just all the gay stuff, well that's one way to tell people that you're gay I guess...'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2020 @ 11:28pm

      Re: 'Why, what else does that name mean?

      The sad thing is it works because most of them find something implicitly wrong with teh ghey.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: 'Why, what else does that name mean?

        If they're going to be bigots and/or children who never made it past the cooties phase might as well use it against them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2020 @ 5:27am

    Proud Boys ... just another useless group of idiots running around with loaded weapons.

    What is there to be proud of? The murder of innocent people?
    If one wants to run around playing soldier, why not join the military? It's not a job, it's an adventure.

    If the benevolent overlords decide we need to reinstate the draft, I suggest that all Proud Boy members be classified as 1A, while essential workers are not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 5:47am

      Re:

      "What is there to be proud of?"

      They're neo-Nazis who until recently tried some marketing to pretend otherwise. They're "proud" of the fact that they were born into a racial group who they consider to be superior, despite nobody within their ranks proving any such superiority.

      "If one wants to run around playing soldier, why not join the military?"

      But... you could get hurt doing that!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re:

        Another idea is to look at those that created the group, and wonder what they are doing with all these people without jobs.
        Point and blame others for your Own problem/difficulties, and you will find TONS of people willing to do the same.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2020 @ 7:38am

    Answer

    Is banning an entire hashtag appropriate?

    No. People's usage of any language changes over time. Depending on the situation, it can even hold multiple interpretations at once. Banning language because of one interpretation or even multiple interpretations of it will quickly lead to an inability to communicate. As the automated algorithms ban leaving no opportunity for people to change the interpretation outside of manual intervention.

    It's why I don't think that platforms should be allowed to ban language in the first place. You don't want to see it? Fine. Don't click on it, and run a client side filter. Your preferences don't take precedence over the ability of others to willingly communicate that also disagree with you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 9:16am

      Re: Answer

      It's why I don't think that platforms should be allowed to ban language in the first place. You don't want to see it? Fine. Don't click on it, and run a client side filter.

      The trolls and other flavors of asshole in the world would certainly love a system like that, as millions of people have to wade through their garbage at least long enough to see what they need to block, having to do so over, and over, and over again as the assholes change terminology to bypass blocks and filters.

      Your preferences don't take precedence over the ability of others to willingly communicate that also disagree with you.

      You've got it backwards, your desire to be able to communicate on a private platform does not take preference over the desires of other users to have a place to communicate and share content that's not overrun by assholes, and especially over the desires of the platform owner regarding what they do and do not want on their platform. Don't like it? Find another platform with rules that allow the desired content.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2020 @ 11:43am

      Re: Answer

      " People's usage of any language changes over time. Depending on the situation, it can even hold multiple interpretations at once."

      You mean like when the word literally is used to mean figuratively?

      Or is it more like when the word "bad" is used to mean good?

      " I don't think that platforms should be allowed to ban language in the first place"

      Are we talking about language or speech here? They are two different things - right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 12:11pm

      I don't think that platforms should be allowed to ban language in the first place.

      Do you believe the law should force Twitter to host racial slurs?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E Mouse, 3 Dec 2020 @ 4:14pm

    Why isn't it just spam?

    So this makes me wonder. How is "reclaiming a hashtag" different from garden variety spam? You're taking a distribution channel - classically mail or email, but in this case, a hashtag - and filling it with something none of the original users want. You know most of what you're sending is completely irrelevant to most recipients, and are hoping that that sub-percent amount that ends up being seen by the right eyes justifies all the other garbage.

    One could claim this is countering speech with more speech, but is it really? You could use any other hashtag and that'd be freedom of speech. But freedom of speech means the freedom to say things, it does not force others to listen. Thus using a hashtag you already know is used for a completely different purpose is nothing more than spam, and should be moderated as such. Even if the hashtag belongs to a lovely group that I wish have a pleasant, fire and brimstone flavoured afterlife, as soon as possible.

    Additionally, languages change, but they do not do so overnight. Linguistic evolution takes years at the very least. Dumping spam on a word isn't evolution, it's a crude attempt at newspeak enforcement. Thus, any hashtag or similar that has been banned should not have the ban lifted for several years, at the very least, no matter how much activists screech about "reclamation" or "counter-messaging".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 9:03pm

      You might make me care about all of that if you can make me care about the rotting McDonald’s hamburgers who call themselves “Proud Boys”. But you can’t. So don’t try to tug at people’s heartstrings about a hashtag being “reclaimed” by way of “something none of the original users want[ed]” when the “original users” are a bunch of racist dicks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon E Mouse, 4 Dec 2020 @ 5:02am

        Re:

        Your and my opinions on the people in question are the same. Doesn't mean others should suffer the same thing down the line because the first case had indefensible assholes involved.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Dec 2020 @ 11:39pm

      Re: Why isn't it just spam?

      "So this makes me wonder. How is "reclaiming a hashtag" different from garden variety spam? You're taking a distribution channel - classically mail or email, but in this case, a hashtag - and filling it with something none of the original users want"

      Nobody owns or has a claim on a single word, which is what a hashtag is. A hashtag can refer to multiple things at once. For example, I regularly go to a horror movie festival in London named Frightfest. During the February and August events, it's easy to look at people posting using the hashtag #frightfest. However, the name is not completely unique and several events in the US closer to the Halloween event use the same name, and people use the same hashtag, meaning that the UK event get flooded out with stuff from the US. This is annoying, but that doesn't mean that the London event "owns" the hashtag because they use it more.

      The solution could be to get people to use different hashtags for different targets, but the fact is that hashtags are just part of a general casual conversation on Twitter. They're not always used in the way intended, and people won't follow any formal rules, because the conversations there are not generally formal.

      The bottom line is - you own your email account. You do not own a public hashtag, whether you were the first or the last person to use it.

      "Linguistic evolution takes years at the very least"

      No, it doesn't, at least not always. If there's a fad or trend in popular culture, it can change very, very quickly. For instance, you will find that if you used to follow the hashtag #WAP to see people tweeting about wireless access points a few months ago, that your results will look very very different right now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon E Mouse, 4 Dec 2020 @ 5:06am

        Re: Re: Why isn't it just spam?

        You're right, hashtags are different from email addresses and there's no clear ownership there. Maybe instead of spam, I should've compared to SEO instead. Where the intended goal often is to force people to receive something they didn't want. Would that be a better comparison?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:12am

          Re: Re: Re: Why isn't it just spam?

          It's better, but certainly not perfect. Take my WAP example, for instance. The same problem happens in both areas. A Google search 12 months ago would have got you some very different results to what you have now. Is anyone actually wrong with that, as culture has changed to alter the meaning of the term?

          Before that single came out, that term would have resulted in boring tech concepts. Now, you get a salacious and deliberately offensive song. Because of the popularity of that song, it's likely that the people typing that into Google today are searching for the song, not the tech stuff. So, both sides would be annoyed by the natural change here. Neither side wants the stuff the other side is actually looking for.

          So, what's the solution? A popular song people want to find being buried beneath tech articles because they were there first? Then, take that further... LGBT support being denied because people 100 years ago used the term "gay" differently?

          If you're taking the power of words away from the masses, who has control, and why do they have it? The bottom line is, language is fluid - especially the English language - and nobody should have ownership over it. If that means that people can be embarrassed because a majority decide that it has changed, that's the price of admission. After all, language is just communication, and no word means anything if we don't all agree on what they mean.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anon E Mouse, 4 Dec 2020 @ 6:54am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Why isn't it just spam?

            I mostly agree. It's just the bottom line - that the majority gets to define what words mean - that's getting bypassed here. A group of activists set out to redefine a word, and I really don't like that. Taking a word, or in this case, a hashtag, that's in active use and trying to force a change in its meaning is a dick move.

            Then we also get to the tyranny of the majority problem, which... I probably shouldn't be bringing up here. Going to just drop an example and go do something else. Japan's "burakumin". Different, but related and fascinating issue. Well worth reading on how the majority's silencing a minority into nonexistence.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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