- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2018

One week after facing backlash for allegedly “shadow banning” prominent conservatives on Twitter, the social media platform is under fire again for hiring several researchers who have criticized President Trump on the site to study users’ “conversational health.”

Twitter announced in a blog post Monday that after a vigorous review process, it had chosen a group, led by Dutch professor Rebekah Tromble, to study “how communities form around political discussions on Twitter, and the challenges that may arise as those discussions develop.”

“In the context of growing political polarization, the spread of misinformation, and increases in incivility and intolerance, it is clear that if we are going to effectively evaluate and address some of the most difficult challenges arising on social media, academic researchers and tech companies will need to work together much more closely,” Ms. Tromble said in a statement. “This initiative presents an important and promising opportunity for Twitter and our team of researchers to share expertise and work on solutions together.”

At least four of the six researchers in the group, including Ms. Tromble, have expressed anti-Trump sentiment on Twitter, Fox News reported.

In tweets that have since been set to private, another researcher involved in the project, Nava Tintarev, wrote, “’Trump‘ and ‘care’ don’t really work in the same sentence do they? Keeping you in my thought today ‘merica,” Fox News reported.

Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Twitter had some work to do if it wanted to earn the trust of conservatives.

“Many of Twitter’s actions continue to be concerning for conservatives,” she told Fox News, via email. “If Twitter wants to restore healthy conversations, they should start by talking with Americans outside of their bubble.”

Twitter said in its blog post that Ms. Tromble‘s project will primarily focus on incivility and intolerance in Twitter conversations, as well as “echo chambers” that form when discussions involve only like-minded people, which can promote resentment towards those not having the same conversation.

“The group has found that while incivility, which breaks norms of politeness, can be problematic, it can also serve important functions in political dialog,” the company said. “In contrast, intolerant discourse — such as hate speech, racism, and xenophobia — is inherently threatening to democracy. The team will therefore work on developing algorithms that distinguish between these two behaviors.”

A Twitter spokesperson told Fox News that the researchers were chosen because of their experience and “the rigorous academic standards of their work.” The backlash they’ve received since their anti-Trump tweets came to light only shows why their research is so important, the spokesperson said.

“The abuse and harassment the lead female researchers are receiving is exactly why this work is important. Everything we do together in the coming months —including their RFP, findings and measurement — will be peer-reviewed and made public so that everyone can assess and learn from what is discovered,” Twitter said.

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