Could auto-generated troll scores reduce Twitter and Facebook harassments?

Cross-posted from LessWrong

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few yeas on the problem of hateful behaviour on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. How can this problem be solved? Twitter and Facebook could of course start adopting stricter policies towards trolls and haters. They could remove more posts and tweets, and ban more users. So far, they have, however, been relatively reluctant to do that. Another more principled problem with this approach is that it could be seen as a restriction on the freedom of speech (especially if Twitter and Facebook were ordered to do this by law).

There’s another possible solution, however. Using sentiment analysis, you could give Twitter and Facebook users a “troll score”. Users whose language is hateful, offensive, racist, etc, would get a high troll score.* This score would in effect work as a (negative) reputation/karma score. That would in itself probably incentivize trolls to improve. However, if users would be allowed to block (and make invisible the writings by) any user whose troll score is above a certain cut-off point (of their choice), that would presumably incentivize trolls to improve even more.

Could this be done? Well, it’s already been shown to be possible to infer your big five personality traits, with great accuracy, from what you’ve written and liked, respectively, on Facebook. The tests are constructed of the basis of correlations between data from standard personality questionnaires (more than 80’000 Facebook users filled in such tests on the behalf of YouAreWhatYouLike, who constructed one of the Facebook tests) and Facebook writings or likes. Once it’s been established that, e.g. extraverted people tend to like certain kinds of posts, or use certain kinds of words, this knowledge can be used to predict the level of extraversion of Facebook users who haven’t taken the questionnaire.

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Article on Pravda.ru comparing the Minsk and Munich agreements rated 0/10

In an article on Pravda.ru, Hans Vogel argues that the Minsk agreement, and the circumstances surrounding it, is strikingly similar to the Munich agreement of 1938 (when the Britain and France accepted German occupation of the Sudetenland in exchange for peace). Most people would of course use such a comparison to argue against Russia, but, to the contrary, Vogel uses this comparison to defend Russia and attack United States:

Like Munich, it was a last-ditch effort to preserve peace in the face of ever increasing odds. Like Munich, it involves the systematic discrimination and persecution of an ethnic minority (Germans in Czechoslovakia, Russians in the Ukraine). Like Munich, it involves a weak state with no significant history as an independent national entity. Like Munich, it was a conference where the one nation that does NOT want peace and that actively pursues war (the US) was absent. At Minsk, one of the participants was doing the secret bidding of the US, namely Germany, whereas at Munich, it was Britain that played this unsavory role. 

The article is strikingly poor, and is so in an instructive way. The main problem is not the fallacies and factual errors, although there are plenty of those, but the extreme lack of evidence and arguments. The author makes the most controversial claims about, e.g the causes of World War II without caring to give so much as a shred of evidence.

My hunch is that this is fairly common: unless they are under extreme pressure to provide evidence and argument, dogmatic people such as this author simply won’t do that, but will instead just state things without argument. I also don’t think they would do that if it was entirely uneffective — if people always could see the lack of evidence and argument. My guess is thus that their foul play pays off.

This points to the importance of persistently requiring that people do provide evidence and arguments for their views. We need to make this kind of foul play transparent, and force those who use it to try to provide evidence and argument for their views. Since that would, in turn, be hard for them to do in a convincing view, that would — or so I hope — go a long way towards showing how dogmatic they really are. Hence the importance of creating a culture where we do give arguments and evidence for all of our claims.

Besides this, the article also includes several other great problems, such as a bizarre argument to the effect that we run a risk of war simply because we’re living in the first half of a century. Overall it is an extremely poorly argued article. I give it a grade of 0 /10. See this link for my Genius.com-powered annotations.

Article in the Guardian by Gregory Clark on social mobility graded 5/10

Gregory Clark writes in The Guardian that “social mobility rates are immutable” and that we therefore should aim at greater economic equality, rather than mobility. Other research indicates that, to the contrary, it is possible to increase mobility – e.g., ironically, by increasing equality. The introduction of a unified school system in Sweden in the 50s and 60s also seems to have increased social mobility. The fact that Clark fails to mention and rebut this alternative view on social mobility is a fundamental flaw in the article.

Generally, the author does not give much evidence for his views. Also, the article contains one major factual error. The author says that GDP per capita “just as high” in the Nordic societies as in the UK. In fact, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland all have substantially higher GDP per capita than the UK, whereas Finland’s GDP per capita is slightly greater than the UK’s.

Of course, these problems does not refute the thesis that it’s important to do more to increase equality. They do constitute substantial weaknesses, however, especially considering that the author is supposed to be an expert on the subject (see The Economist’s review of a book by him on the topic). I give it a grade of 5/10. See this link for my Genius.com-powered comments.

Articles about the Nordic countries in New York Post and Washington Post graded 1/10 and 3/10

January has seen two critical articles on the Nordic countries and it’s political system in New York Post and Washington Post. The articles are full of factual errors, anecdotal evidence and cherry-picking of data. This goes especially for the New York Post article, which is a truly horrible and prejudiced article. I have graded more than 100 articles so far but never given a 1/10 to any article. See the links for my Genius.com-powered comments.

Post about DN Debatt-betyg on Genius.com

This is something I just wrote on Genius.com. Since you can’t read it if you’re not a Genius.com member, I also post it here.


I’m Stefan Schubert, a Swedish postdoc in philosophy working at London School of Economics. I’d like to tell you about a project of mine that I’m running at the moment, which is very much in the spirit of Genius.com. I would appreciate comments, advice, suggestions for co-operation, etc. I’m not very familiar with Genius.com or it’s culture, having just started using it, and am eager to learn more.

Exasparated by the low standards of the Swedish public debate (which, by the way, is no worse than the debate in English-speaking countries) I started the blog DN Debatt-betyg in September last year. On this blog, I analyze opinion pieces from Sweden’s most influential public forum, DN Debatt. (The articles are typically written by high-ranking politicians, academics, civil servants or writers.) Basically, I aim to point out factual errors,logical fallacies, failures to provide evidence and argument for different claims, failure to consider and rebut obvious counter-arguments, ad hominem-arguments, etc. (I take philosopher Paul Grice’s co-operative principle as a benchmark.) On the basis of these analyses I also grade them on a scale from 0-10. I’ve translated some of my analyses to English here. I should also say that I aim to be objective and to not take a political stance.

In the fall, I criticized 94 such articles in a row, to get an unbiased statistical sample of the mean quality of the articles (it’s disappointingly low). Thereafter, I’ve not had time to do this every day and have therefore concentrated on the articles that are interesting and relatively easy to comment on.

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Translation of “Replace the rhetoricians with philosophers” from DN Debatt-betyg

This is a translation of my blog post “Replace the rhetoricians with philosophers”. See here for a description of the project as a whole.

Replace the rhetoricians with philosophers

Both in Sweden and in other countries political debates are often reviewed from a rhetorical point of view in TV channels and newspapers – usually by professional rhetoricians (see, for instance, these examples from this year’s election campaign). In this post I argue against this practice, claiming that media should instead let the debates be reviewed from the point of view of logic and content, e.g. by philosophers. In other words, the analyses should focus on what the politicians are saying rather than on how they say it, what body language they use, etc. Likewise, important political texts such as opinion pieces (including DN Debatt-articles, of course), manifestos, etc, should be analyzed from a logical point of view in the media.

This strikes me as fairly uncontroversial and obvious (although one can discuss how extensive these analyzes should be), and I believe and hope that many readers will agree with me. Even so, I want to give a detailed argument for why rhetoricians should be replaced by experts on the logical aspect of argumentation.

My argument is as follows:

Premise 1) The media should help voters to make informed political decisions.

Premise 2) To make informed political decisions, you must understand the arguments that politicians put forward.

Premise 3) To make informed political decisions, you do not need to know which politicians are the most rhetorically skilled.

Conclusion: The media should help voters understand the arguments that politicians put forward, but they do not need to help them to understand who is the most rhetorically skilled.

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Translation of analysis of DN Debatt 9 December 2014

This is a translation of my analysis of DN Debatt 9 Dec 2014 (the original article is translated here). See here for a description of the project as a whole.

Some background notes for non-Swedes: in September 2014, the centre-right Alliance government (consisting of the Moderates, the Liberal Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats) lost the elections and a red-green government consisting of the Social Democrats (S) and the Greens (Miljöpartiet; Mp), supported by the Left party, took over. The latter three parties do not, however, constitute a majority in parliament, and their budget proposal was downvoted 3 December, since the far-right Sweden Democrats decided to support the Alliance’s proposal (against established praxis, which is to abstain from voting in further votes once your own proposal is down-voted). Prime minister Stefan Löfven then called for extra elections.


DN Debatt 9 December graded 4/10

In today’s DN Debatt the party leaders of the four Alliance parties writes that the budget voting rules should be amended to make it easier for a minority government to have its budget accepted. They write as follows:

The starting point would be that the budget alternative that has the strongest support in Parliament actually becomes the winning budget. Changes to voting rules could be implemented by an agreement between the parties or through a change in the Parliament Act regarding the budget vote.

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