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Twitter turns to Oxford experimental psychologists over hate speech

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Twitter is turning to academics, including from Oxford’s department for experimental psychology, to tackle hate speech and promote “healthy conversations”.

The company said that it ultimately intends to be able to measure “the health of public conversation on Twitter” although it isn’t yet clear how this healthiness could be measured.

Professor Miles Hewstone and John Gallacher at the University of Oxford’s department for experimental psychology, in partnership with Dr Marc Heerdink of the University of Amsterdam, are working with the company to study how people use Twitter.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to work with Twitter on investigating the important social challenges of a digitally connected world,” said Professor Hewstone.

“Evidence from social psychology has shown how communication between people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways to decrease prejudice and discrimination.

“We’re aiming to investigate how this understanding can be used to measure the health of conversations on Twitter, and whether the effects of positive online interaction carry across to the offline world.”

Oxford University
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Academics from Oxford will help Twitter measure ‘healthy conversation’

The company has launched a “global health initiative” in response to criticism that it was too soft on those using the platform to harass female public figures and espouse racist abuse.

A crackdown on locked accounts prompted some of the most followed people to lose millions of followers, with Katy Petter, Lady Gaga and Barack Obama losing millions each.

Additional work based on ranking high-quality conversations led to Twitter being accused of political bias when US Republican politicians discovered they were not being “auto-suggested”.

Twitter said this was due to a bug which had affected some Democratic politicians too, and which had since been fixed.

The company’s shares plunged 15% last week when it reported losing more than a million users and stated that it expected to lose more as part of a drive to get rid of abuse.

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