Over the summer, Leslie Jones’ struggles with the service reminded us that Twitter can be staggeringly racist (and she’s far from the only example). It can be overwhelming for the average person to think about, and many can feel powerless. But some recent research has shown it’s as simple as speaking up.
Kevin Munger recently ran an experiment in which he collected a group of people, either anonymous users or identifiable white from their avatar, who regularly used the n-word as a slur. He set up a handful of Twitter accounts, and made them look like authentic people with followers, tweets, and all that, but tweaked two variables: The race of the cartoon avatar he used, and the number of followers they had. He even sent them the same message:
@[subject] Hey man, just remember that there are real people who are hurt when you harass them with that kind of language
The results aren’t quite what you’d expect, but they are compelling. When these particular racists were confronted by somebody they viewed as in their social group (white), and had a high status, as measured by follower count, they backed off. Just a bit, as Munger notes, using it 0.3 fewer times per day, but that was after one confrontation. It’s not clear what would happen if a bunch of high status Twitter users dogpiled (politely) on these slur users.
Conversely, being called on it by seemingly black Twitter robots actually encouraged racism… which is, obviously disheartening. The key takeaway, though, is that if you see somebody being an ass on Twitter, say something. If enough people speak up, it seems likely to get the message across.
(via The Washington Post)