NBC's Ben Collins explains Twitter's failure to combat white supremacist content

Collins: There has been “intentional conflation by a bunch of a conservatives here to say that, 'You know, white supremacist accounts and average Republican accounts are the same thing'”

From the April 25 edition of MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle:

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ALI VELSHI (CO-HOST): Twitter employees had a blunt message for management in a recent hands-on meeting -- all-hands meeting. The social media company can purge ISIS content from its platform so why can't it purge white nationalist content? Well the meeting, reported by Vice, showed the divide in the company's efforts to combat extremism. Employees were told that the AI, the artificial intelligence used to get rid of ISIS-related content, could end up banning some Republican accounts.


BEN COLLINS (TECH REPORTER FOR NBC): So, basically, this conversation was about what do we use to identify ISIS on this platform? Why don't I see any ISIS on this platform? There's no -- I see no ISIS messaging at all on this platform. 


STEPHANIE RUHLE (CO-HOST): Then how do we get to -- if you're wiping ISIS content off, you may end up nabbing Republicans, where's the connection? 

COLLINS: Right, so here's the argument from people at Twitter is there is some collateral damage when we take down ISIS content. Sometimes we take down Arabian news agencies. Now that's a big deal in those countries, it's not here, right? If we were to start using that same sort of technology on white supremacy in the United States, you might do the same thing here. We might, you know -- they use things called hashes for videos. For an ISIS beheading video, they would take down an entire account instead of taking down just the video because they can identify that video automatically with just code.

RUHLE: Ah, so, for example, if [Rep.] Steve King [(R-IA)], or President [Donald] Trump, or Don Jr. --

VELSHI: All of whom have retweeted --

RUHLE: -- retweeted the content of a white supremacist, even if it wasn't a message that articulated white supremacist views, it could nab them.

COLLINS: Yeah, exactly. So they don't want to go in reverse and do all this stuff. But there's a way to hone this, right? There's an in-between between “We're taking down of these accounts, and then we're going to work backwards from there because we view ISIS to be completely unacceptable,” right? There is a difference between going all the way there and then working backwards, like retroactively, and reinstating accounts, and what they're doing right now, which is simply -- it's not enough. It's like not even close to enough. Richard Spencer's still on Twitter. I think we can -- if you really want to ban white supremacy on Twitter, you can just get rid of the guy. 

RUHLE: Yes but that's what the president focused on when meeting with [Twitter CEO] Jack Dorsey. He did not talk about Robert Mueller having in line one sweeping impact that Russia had, i.e. on social media. 

VELSHI: He was talking about social media being unfair to conservatives. 

RUHLE: Correct. And losing followers. 

COLLINS: And apparently -- credit to Jack Dorsey, who really does not do a very good job in this stuff usually. He apparently rebuked him in that meeting and said, “Listen, the reason that is is because there are bots out there that follow the biggest accounts, and you're the biggest account I can think of,” right? Donald Trump on Twitter is the biggest political account I can think of. “So there -- those bots are going to follow you and they're going to stop following you when we ban them,” right? Do that may have been a pretty good answer. Like maybe that got through to the president. That's possible. But like, that's the other issue. The intentional conflation by a bunch of a conservatives here to say that, “You know, white supremacist accounts and average Republican accounts are the same thing.”

VELSHI: Right.

COLLINS: It's just not true. Like there's a way to delineate this, but you have to start going down that path. Like it should be in the interest of conservatives to try to make a delineation between white supremacist content and far-right content.


Vice: Why Won’t Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too.


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