Hate speech on social media is related engineering and sustainability through the SDGs set by the UN. It poses potential threat to the people who are working towards sustainability, and the public perception of technology, innovation, and engineering.
Hate speech is being eliminated as well as being promoted by engineering innovations at the same time. i.e. Computers have given everyone access to more information than ever, but also opened a platform for hate speech to brew.
[Social media on the internet is designed to feed off of negative human emotions1. Engineers design apps to maximize user’s screen time and trigger negative emotions (because people are more likely to engage with the content when they’re emotional – specially anger)2[^3]. It’s been found that people act more negatively and aggressively[^4] due to the lack of body language and facial expressions. Given the conditions, hate speech on social media/internet is inevitable.
On the other hand, engineers are also trying to reduce hate speech. But it is unproductive to use technology (machine learning, natural language processing) to censor hate speech because hateful individuals will find a way if they persist. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that such technology would not have sociopolitical bias on what classifies as hate speech, which could lead to an even bigger political divide (see scandals regarding Silicon Valley companies’ involvements in politics and manipulation). In fact, 72% of the public thinks that social media platforms actively censor political views3, and having public mistrust in engineering development is not helpful towards sustainability.
Hate speech cannot be eliminated completely and it will act as a roadblock/distraction. Hate speech hinders the progression of gender equality SDG (5) 4 regarding discrimination. Due to the emotional and propaganda nature of hate speech, generations could be affected and impact the progression of SDG (4)5 regarding quality education. The misinformation that could potentially spread from hate speech could place a severe public distrust of government agencies, companies, and engineers. And ultimately distract us from the focus to fix climate change and biodiversity loss.
Side note: I tried really hard to write a position where hate speech is not related to engineering and sustainability from a more conservative point of view. That was too hard.
Pew Research - Public Attitude Towards Tech Companies: https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/06/28/public-attitudes-toward-technology-companies/ ↩