How to stop increasing the reach and impact of hate (and misinformation) on Twitter

Angry white guy sits at his computer typing out tweets on Twitter.

There is a lot of hate (and misinformation) on Twitter. There is racism, transphobia, and misogyny. And more.

How we deal with this is important because we want to take care of ourselves, and we also want to take care of our communities.

I have stopped calling the users that espouse hate, trolls. Saying “trolls” makes it sound like a game.1 The white supremacists, and the misogynists, and fascists think of it as a game and they have done very well amplifying their messaging and getting their soundbites and framing into the legacy media news cycle.23

The impact of hate is very real. So I’ve taken to calling them hate accounts, antagonists, and perpetrators.4

The thing is that Twitter has, in my assessment, failed at taking a systemic approach to dealing with these accounts.5 The result is that we have all become individually responsible for trying to limit the reach and impact of these hate accounts. It’s not great, but here we are.

I believe it’s our duty to stop amplifying hate by being more judicious about retweeting, quote tweeting, liking, and even mentioning the tweets from accounts that are hateful.

The challenge is that these accounts are not 100% hateful. They are sometimes saying correct things, interesting things, and neutral things. But if they are, by and large and in the long run, hateful, and we amplify them, we are unwittingly amplifying hate.6

Importantly, every mention, and every quote tweet, even those performed as criticism, serves to amplify those accounts. Setting aside the dangers of repeating incorrect frames (don’t repeat bad frames!) interacting with hateful accounts increases their status. Our well-intended criticisms are paving a road to amplified hate.

Mentions and quote tweets are engagements and they signal to the Twitter algorithm that those accounts are important. The result is that those accounts will get more impressions (impact), and a larger audience (reach).

Six steps to not amplifying hate on Twitter

So here’s where I’m personally at, for dealing with hate accounts on Twitter.

  1. Don’t respond to, mention, or retweet, a manipulative account, even if they have made a neutral/positive comment. The principle here is to care more about the pattern of behaviour.
  2. If I don’t know someone who comments, I check their profile. I don’t just look at their Tweets; I look at the Tweets & replies and Likes to assess whether I am willing to engage with them. Do they have a numbered account? How long have they been on Twitter? Who do they follow? Are they a lying liar?7
  3. If I want to participate in critiquing them, I don’t mention them. I use their name (if they’re not anonymous) or simply use screenshots.8
  4. If they reply to my tweets, I hide their replies so others don’t have to be impacted by their tweets (and get lured into engaging).
  5. I block them. This stops them from leaving future comments.9
  6. I get support from my friends on Twitter during the process. I reach out to people via Direct Message, or in other contexts.

Related resources

Even though I’m not I’m not a huge fan of the phrase, “don’t feed the trolls,” many other authors use the phrase, and much of their advice is good. Here’s a few related reports and resources.

  1. And trolling has many meanings including provoking your opponents while undermining them.
  2. The report, Lexicon of Lies, Terms for Problematic Information is a must read for journalists and anyone working in media (which is essentially all of us on social media, now).
  3. See also the The Oxygen of Amplification, Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators.
  4. Many of them are anonymous and sock puppet accounts, but I don’t think these are their defining quality.
  5. I’m grateful that they have been suspending qanon accounts. Also, reporting hate accounts does occasionally help.
  6. Where we choose to draw the line with this is very interesting to me. I have said things that are hateful and I’m not immune to the dominant cultural currents of power. I think as soon as we’re engaging with the question of how to draw the line, we’re doing pretty well. Having a line, and acting on it, means we’re having to perform a kind of narrative analysis of the accounts we interact with.
  7. I’m fast at this and I probably get it wrong sometimes. But I have learned to thin-slice a Twitter account pretty well. (You can too!)
  8. Proviso: sometimes it’s important to let someone know you’re critiquing their claims. So, sometimes I mention them. It’s a grey area.
  9. Sometimes I also report them.

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