There needs to be more laws and regulations that bar the use of online hate speech, making it a free, open and diverse domain. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Even today, that quote carries some weight when we look to the social trends of the World Wide Web.
The web turned 30 years old last week, and its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, has some qualms about the nature of his own invention. Berners-Lee brought us into a new age of human interaction with the web, but he feels that his invention is now in a state of dysfunction.
To Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web has become a place that has given marginalized groups a voice, yet has also given a platform to voices that spread hate speech. He declared in an open letter, “The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time.”
The web has become an ongoing archive of the human experience and stream of consciousness, and the amount of data being uploaded is increasing at a rapid rate. The data that is voluntarily uploaded is collected and stored in a way that can be used by algorithms, which in turn could reveal a unique truth about the current digital society.
The truth of our society was revealed in 2016, when Microsoft invented an artificial intelligence Twitter bot, Tay.
Intuitive and whimsical, Tay’s first tweet stated, “Hello!” with a world emoji as the O.
In just 12 hours, Tay was disseminating hate speech and racist rhetoric. A concoction of holocaust denialism, sexist remarks and neo-nazi sympathies were learned by the AI through its algorithms that replicated the behavior of other twitter users, and Microsoft was quick to take down its invention.
The intent of Tay’s language programming was to assure that its responses came off as “conversational”, but the availability of diverse language in 2016 didn’t allow that function.
The AI systematically revealed a truth about humanity that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. If hate speech is not tolerated in the physical world, it should not be tolerated in the virtual world.
The beauty of an algorithm is that it is documented in a series of coding which allows the creator to program rules, much like laws, that operating systems must follow. Since we are barely scratching the surface of this technology, programmers must stay vigilant to assure that the morality of our social constructs stay in tact.
The battle for a more just World Wide Web begins with making the web more available to diverse groups of people. If the data that we are uploading into the cybersphere is one- sided, then we will end up with an algorithmic bias.
There just won’t be enough data for a computer to know what diversity truly is if the program hasn’t learned who is diverse or where diversity comes from.
Programmers and lawmakers alike must strike a balance that protects freedom of speech while also assuring that a hateful agenda does not prosper under the nose of society. It’s now up to society to take action to assure that the web continues to stay free, available to everyone and fair for all people to use.