A common misconception about social media is that a large part of it is toxic. This is often said to be the result of people following in the footsteps of social media influencers. A new study claims that banning or removing ‘extremists’ from social media can reduce the spread of antisocial ideas and conspiracy theories. In recent years, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have removed a number of influencers to curb the spread of offensive speech. Deplatforming refers to the permanent ban of controversial public figures following a large number of social media sites.
The study examined what happened when individuals with large followers did not have a platform to promote their extreme views. It evaluated the effectiveness of deplatforming as a moderation strategy on Twitter.
The study was published in the journal ACM’s Proceedings on Human-Computer Interactions. Researchers presented a case study of three high-profile influencers who were taken down by Twitter. These individuals were radio host Alex Jones (September 2018), right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos (July 2016), and alt-right comedian Owen Benjamin (April 2018). Banning them, Twitter had said that they violated its abusive behavior policy.
The researchers worked with more than 49 million tweets and found that deplatforming “significantly reduced the number of conversations” about all three individuals on the micro-blogging site. Analyzing the activities of their followers on Twitter, the researchers also found that supporters’ overall activity and toxicity levels declined after deplatforming. The study found that posts referencing each influencer declined by about 92 percent following Twitter action. The number of existing users and new users who tweeted specifically about each influencer also decreased by 90 percent.
Study lead author Shagun Jhawar, assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at Rutgers-New Brunswick, told Rutgers Today, “Getting someone off the platform is an extreme step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.” University publication. However, social media platforms have rules to ensure fair behavior. “When a site member repeatedly breaks those rules, the platform needs to take action,” he said.