Am Nasty To Women International

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Note: Apologies for the continuing sporadic blogging as the internet issues at The Daily Chrenk HQ sadly continue.

After I came to Australia and started high school, I joined my school’s chapter of Amnesty International. I didn’t know very much about this then esteemed organisation, except that it has always campaigned for the release of political prisoners and for general human rights in Poland, which was all good in my books. Subsequently, I was interested to learn that AI had such strict standards that, for example, it never lobbied for Nelson Mandela, who while a political prisoner, advocated violence and was convicted on terrorist charges. This made him not to be the sort of prisoner of conscience that Amnesty fought and agitated for.

It’s therefore sad to see that decades later Amnesty International has abandoned any standards and is just another tendentious left-wing lobby group most concerned about the real, the imaginary and the exaggerated sins of the Western world. Take, for instance, its latest crowd-sourced study into the online abuse of prominent women (politicians, journalists) on Twitter:

Welcome to the findings of our Troll Patrol project: a joint effort by human rights researchers, technical experts and thousands of online volunteers to build the world’s largest crowd-sourced dataset of online abuse against women…

These findings are the result of a collaboration between Amnesty International and Element AI,  a global artificial intelligence software product company. Together, we surveyed millions of tweets received by 778 journalists and politicians from the UK and US throughout 2017 representing a variety of political views, and media spanning the ideological spectrum. Using cutting-edge data science and machine learning techniques, we were able to provide a quantitative analysis of unprecedented scale of online abuse against women in the UK and USA…

7.1% of tweets sent to the women in the study were “problematic” or “abusive”. This amounts to 1.1 million tweets mentioning 778 women across the year, or one every 30 seconds…

More than 6,500 digital volunteers from around the world then took part in Troll Patrol, analysing 288,000 unique tweets to create a labelled dataset of abusive or problematic content. The volunteers were shown an anonymized tweet mentioning one of the women in our study, then were asked simple questions about whether the tweets were abusive or problematic, and if so, whether they revealed misogynistic, homophobic or racist abuse, or other types of violence. Each tweet was analysed by multiple people. The volunteers were given a tutorial and definitions and examples of abusive and problematic content, as well as an online forum where they could discuss the tweets with each other and with Amnesty International’s researchers.

The volunteers collectively dedicated an incredible 2,500 hours analysing tweets – that’s the equivalent of someone working full-time for 1.5 years. They were a very diverse group of people- aged between 18 to 70 years old and from over 150 countries.

Well, for starters thank you for making a startling discovery that the world of social media, particularly as it goes beyond cat videos and photos of your dinner and ventures into politics and other contentious areas, is a cesspool of ignorance, abuse and rudeness, born out of the senses of anonymity, distance and relative impunity.  Perhaps there might have been a somewhat more productive uses for these 6,500 volunteers; if somebody spent that 1.5 years working full time for the cause of, say, all those persecuted on political, religious and ethnic grounds in China?

Secondly, such study, however headline capturing, is completely meaningless since it does not provide any context or reference point for its findings. Yes, women on average have something nasty said to them on Twitter every 30 seconds, or more precisely, the 778 women in this particular group have. But is it more or less than a comparable group of men? Without that comparison all we can conclude that many commenters online get too heated up and rude (we’re told 7.1 per cent of tweets sent to women are “problematic” and “abusive” – quite apart from whether that’s a lot or not, I would prefer to know just what exactly is considered to be bad enough to be included, in particular what exactly is “problematic”, because today’s experience clearly shows that definitions can vary widely). But are women bearing a brunt of this online abuse more than men? What if they don’t – what if a comparable group of 788 male politicians and journalists receive a nasty comment once every 15 seconds? In which case the headline could be “Women treated more courteously than men online” . But we just don’t know, and Amnesty International together with their 6,500 volunteers wasted another opportunity to let us know.

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