With Mass Social Media Layoffs, Researchers Warn of Rise in Hate Speech

*(Note that the footage contains highly offensive and inflammatory language. The Alameda County Attorney’s Office filed charges against 37-year-old Singh Tejinder several days later.)

Tejinder, who can be heard speaking in Punjabi, spat out a torrent of insults at Iyer, calling him a “dirty Hindu” among other insults commonly seen on social media.

“Even before these cuts (to Silicon Valley companies), Hindus as a community have regularly faced hatred on online platforms for several years,” wrote Pushpita Prasad of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. “Moderation policies on the internet have not been very sensitive to Hindu concerns and fears.”

The recent attacks on Hindu communities are just one collective example of how hate speech against ethnic/religious groups can proliferate online if left unchecked.

Another more recent example: Twitter trolls, emboldened by Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition, led to a 500 percent increase in the use of a particularly offensive racist epithet aimed at African Americans, according to the NCRI.

“As soon as Elon Musk walked in the door,” said Finkelstein, adding that the institute reached out to Twitter staff to update them of the finding. “You’d think everyone would notice that. They hadn’t noticed. They noticed because LeBron James picked up our tweet and literally singled it out Elon Musk.”

Twitter no longer has a press department to answer reporters’ questions. A meta spokesperson declined to provide specific numbers on how many layoffs are affecting the company’s trust and safety teams in the US and abroad, but wrote, “Our integrity efforts remain our top priority, which is why we continue to… over 40,000 people are dedicated to safety efforts and we will continue to invest in that work.”

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Electronic Frontier Foundation legal director Corynne McSherry says the foundation is still trying to determine exactly which teams at Meta have been most dramatically affected by the layoffs.

Speaking on Twitter, McSherry said: “What they really had to do, first of all, was probably double down on their trust and security teams. To actually do well, people need to make nuanced choices. They didn’t have enough staff initially and certainly don’t have it now. I’m really concerned that they – in both companies – are thinking, “We’re just going to automate more.” What we’ve seen is that that just doesn’t work.”

Finkelstein says social media companies need to refocus on preventing violence, rather than just trying to avoid backlash from the press — and from politicians. “When trust and security teams say, ‘Let’s put out this political fire because we may get in trouble,’ you have a garden tended by political concerns. And nobody really cares about the damage that actually happens.”

What can vulnerable communities expect from Silicon Valley now that mass layoffs are eroding the very trust and security teams that should be on the lookout for threats? Not much, said Denver Riggleman, an institute adviser and former Republican congressman from Virginia and a technical director of the January 6 committee.

Riggleman is calling for government-funded public and private partnerships to expand predictive modeling of the kind the institute used to warn of this cyber swarm over the summer.

“Almost a social media alert dashboard. This is not something regulatory, but it is informative. It’s situational awareness,” Riggleman said.

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