Twitter is slowly removing racist and sexist tweets targeting Vice President Kamala Harris

Twitter is slowly removing racist and sexist tweets targeting Vice President Kamala Harris

Twitter is slowly removing racist and sexist tweets targeting Vice President Kamala Harris

Replies to tweets from Vice President Kamala Harris, the country’s top black female official, routinely contain racist, sexist and graphic messages that threaten her safety. A new report finds that hateful tweets targeting Harris have been rampant, while Twitter has been slow to respond and, at times, acted incorrectly.

According to Bot Sentinel, an impartial research organization dedicated to combating disinformation and targeted harassment online, more than 4,200 tweets were sent to Harris in the first five months of this year, including the use of the n-word, manipulated graphics and death threats.

“All those tweets are violating their rules and policies if you look at them, and we’ve made that available in the report,” Christopher Bouzy, the founder of Bot Sentinel, told CBS News. “For example, it shows manipulated photos of her engaging in lewd sex acts. I mean, that’s a no-brainer, but it came back that it didn’t violate their policy.”

A Twitter spokesperson told CBS News that the platform’s initial assessment of the tweets reported to them was incorrect and admitted mistakes had been made in enforcing the platform’s content moderation rules.

Bouzy said his team began the research project after a group of prominent black women reported to Bot Sentinel in January that Twitter was ignoring their numerous reports of abusive tweets to the vice president.

“They received the same messages that we eventually received that those tweets did not violate their policies,” Bouzy said. He added that he was “floored” by Twitter’s initial response to his posts of blatantly racist and threatening tweets.

Bot Sentinel, which uses Twitter’s engagement rules to guide its research studies, released a series of 40 tweets last week. Twitter initially only removed two, ignoring 18 of them and saying the remaining 20 abusive tweets — including one threatening to kill Harris — did not violate the platform’s policies, according to Bot Sentinel.

Bouzy said days after the initial report, Twitter suspended 10 of the accounts and deleted all 40 tweets. A Twitter spokesperson said ahead of Bot Sentinel’s report that 10 of the tweets referenced by the platform have been reviewed but do not violate its engagement rules.

After further investigation, Twitter determined that those tweets should be removed and that the initial assessment was incorrect.

Twitter’s etiquette prohibits users from targeting others with repeated racist comments that aim to dehumanize and promote negative stereotypes. The platform also prohibits content that wishes or expresses the death of another user.

Sanctions include deleting tweets and suspending accounts when the platform determines their primary intent is to engage in hateful behavior. In some cases, Twitter also lowers the tweets in the replies and makes them ineligible for boost in search results. The rationale here is to reduce the risk of potential harm in the real world by limiting the visibility of the tweet on the platform.

Twitter said the goal is to delete problematic tweets as quickly as possible, before users even report it, but acknowledged errors happen when the content moderation teams work at scale.

On Monday, Bot Sentinel released the second part of its report, which includes screenshots and links to more than 1,300 tweets of a similar nature, in addition to the original 40 released last week.

The investigation revealing racist tweets directed at Harris comes as sentiments of white supremacy seep into American society and politics. Just last month, an 18-year-old drove more than 200 miles, killing 10 black shoppers and injuring three others, at a convenience store in Buffalo. Police said the suspect in the shooting was racially motivated, had targeted the area for its high percentage of black residents and wanted to kill as many black people as possible.

Several Republican candidates running for office in 2022 are seeking support by warning voters about the “great replacement theory,” a racist talking point that falsely claims minorities are conspiring with Democrats to reduce the role of white people in America.

Online harassment of women from across the political spectrum has been documented on Twitter in the past. Politicians, journalists and media organizations are often the target of vitriol from users who hide behind a screen.

But studies show that women of color are three times more likely to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets, according to an Amnesty International report. The 2018 study also found that black women were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in hateful tweets.

Bouzy said former Vice President Mike Pence was also regularly attacked by critics on Twitter, but the language directed against him was not the same. He said Bot Sentinel viewed tweets addressed to Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, two far-right representatives who are often at the center of controversy.

“We wanted to see if it’s similar, and they’re also facing attacks,” Bouzy said. He added, however, that it cannot be compared to what Harris has to endure, as the sexist language and blatant use of racist remarks directed at the vice president are “on another level”.

The vice president’s office declined to comment on this story.

The barrage of hateful tweets targeting Harris that appear to break Twitter’s rules could be a preview of what the platform could look like under Elon Musk’s leadership. Human rights advocates and social media pundits have warned that Musk’s $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, and his promise to restore “freedom of speech” — so users can say what they want — will lead to a rise in racist abuse. and sexist language on the platform.

It’s unclear whether the problematic tweets targeting Harris are part of a coordinated campaign, and whether they come from real accounts or from fake “bot” accounts that Musk has questioned. Many of the accounts appear to be real individuals with hundreds and in some cases thousands of followers.

Tamer Hassan, co-founder and CEO of HUMAN, a cybersecurity company that tracks fraudulent bot activity, says the content of the tweets collected in the Bot Sentinel report is “not far from a typical” campaign organized by nefarious actors who use bots.

“What we’ve seen in the last 10 years, the evolution of bone activity, is generally moving towards a very human-like,” Hassan said. “We mostly see them in the social media world used for amplification.”

Hassan said organizing a campaign to send hateful content to someone like Harris is “very easy and cheap, pretty much anyone can do it.”

“We’re rapidly moving to a world where bots are part of our culture and part of our interactions,” Hassan said.

“Bots are one of the major threats to modern security and there is very little policy or practice surrounding their use,” he added.

Tim Perry contributed to this report.