Toxicity is Damaging our Digital Public Spaces
W ith an increasingly connected world, the internet has become the primary place where people go to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. But as more voices join the conversation, toxic comments can crowd out healthy dialogue. Hateful speech and online harassment make people less likely to participate online and more likely to leave platforms altogether, or retreat to filter bubbles. Toxicity is a global problem, and has potentially dire consequences for freedom of expression.
While toxicity is pervasive online, it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of society. People of color are more likely to be harassed online, as are women, religious minorities and people who identify as LGBTQ+. By silencing underrepresented voices and discouraging participation from specific targeted groups, toxicity reduces diversity of thought in conversations online.
“While at best, comment sections became places for dynamic conversation and exchange, they could also become irrelevant or loaded with spam and vitriol.”
Marginalized groups are most affected by toxicity
According to a study conducted in December 2018 by the Anti-Defamation League, marginalized groups experienced the most toxicity online. Identity-based harassment was most common against LGBTQ+ individuals, with 63% of LGBTQ+ respondents experiencing harassment online because of their sexual orientation. Race-based harassment was also found to affect 30% of Hispanics or Latinos, 27% of African-Americans, and 20% of Asian-Americans. Women reported harassment disproportionately, with gender identity-based harassment affecting 24% of female-identified respondents, compared to 15% of male-identified respondents.
“A publisher's ability to provide a safe space for people to engage with each other online is paramount to our success. Audience development through engagement has shown to provide sustainable results; increasing traffic, loyalty, and subscriptions, all necessary components for a publication to succeed today.”
Many publisher business models rely on reader engagement to drive ad revenue. As toxic conversations pervade their forums, reader engagement falls and that ad revenue diminishes. This could mean that smaller publishers can’t afford the increased costs of providing high-quality moderation on their platforms, putting further strain on local new organizations that are already struggling. The value of local news sources to their community is hard to overstate, and the loss of these sites of community dialogue has far-reaching consequences. Toxicity directly imperils independent journalism, and makes it difficult for publishers to host healthy dialogue in their comment sections.
“At Coral, we focus on making the essential work of moderators easier and faster. Perspective helps us by identifying comments in several languages that require immediate attention. The Perspective team are terrific collaborators in this mission.”
“[Toxicity] had forced us to close comments on stories sooner than we would like simply because we didn’t have the resources to sort through them all.”
What would the internet look like if it was less toxic?
Reducing toxicity online could help restore a healthier, more vibrant internet for everyone. If publishers can offer more spaces for their users to share and express ideas, people would be able to more freely engage and connect with each other. Children would be less at risk of being exposed to bullying, harassment, or toxic comments at an impressionable age. Employees of platforms would be freed up to work on more productive projects instead of patrolling comments for hate and toxicity.
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