Virtual Lecture – The Business Model is the Message: Reconfiguring the Enabling Environment for Hate Speech

Wednesday 2 March 2022, 10:00 am – 11:00 am EST, online (Washington DC, USA)


Featuring Nathalie Maréchal and Leandro Ucciferri.

Hate speech and incitement take advantage of the affordances of the 21st century internet, specifically those of the dominant social media platforms. The global online communications system is financially dependent on and optimized for targeted advertising. Platforms’ ad targeting algorithms and recommendation engines enable various actors to wage sophisticated influence campaigns with scarce oversight or accountability, with some of the most virulent campaigns deploying hate speech as a tactic.

The tech industry’s response centers on improving content moderation. With each new scandal, company representatives follow a predictable script: pro forma apologies, revisions of platform rules to narrowly prohibit the content or behavior in question, promises of renewed investment in algorithmic detection of prohibited content and behavior, and further expansion of human content moderation. But internal whistleblowers have revealed that companies prioritize harms or potential harms affecting large, rich, powerful countries at the expense of smaller, poorer, less powerful nations and their people, including many conflict-fragile societies, leaving them fully vulnerable to the harms that content moderation processes are intended to mitigate, like hate speech and incitement.

The interventions described elsewhere in this book, while essential, target the symptoms rather than the underlying disease: a global sociotechnical system of data exploitation and influence peddling that Shoshana Zuboff (2019) and others call “surveillance capitalism.” This presentation makes the case for restructuring the global internet economy by strictly regulating the collection and use of data, improving corporate governance, and requiring greater transparency about the processes and outcomes of content curation and moderation.


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