Twitterbot experiment suggests that public disapproval by white men can reduce harassers' use of racist language

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A change of 0.3 fewer insults in a week doesn’t sound like a lot, statistically, to base a conclusion on. And practically speaking, how much disapproval would be required to shut up the average troll at that rate? How much disapproval did the president-elect get for his tweets?

Still, I’d like to see an experiment involving the strength of disapproval on bad tweeting. Do you get better results with mild disapproval than calling someone an out-and-out racist, for example?


Me too. I also think it is important to note that blacks calling out the behavior increased the behavior. (Note, I am not suggesting POC don’t call out racist bullshit, given what I say below, I can see how one might assume that.)

.3 is a low number, but it is a decrease, and not an increase. I think this is pretty common sense, as if you have ever been the outsider of a group, having someone vouch for you or have someone tell the others to knock it off can go a long way.

This again shows how our cognitive biases work. Getting called out on our biases by people like us, still tends to get filtered out, but it doesn’t strengthen the bias. Getting called out by the bias we already have, just STRENGTHENS the bias.

One of the issues I have had with some groups is while I agree with the overall subject, the way they approach it is bound to have negative effects. Of course you can’t get through to some of the people all of the time, and the argument of “don’t tell me how to protest” is valid, but in the interest of doing the most good, I think it is important to try to structure things around how peoples’ brains work.


As you acknowledge, this “can make a difference to racist behavior (if not necessarily attitudes)”. But that could be a problem. The delta between how people feel and what is acceptable to say (1) causes people to dig in their heels due to resentment against “PC” culture, and (2) allows the problem to stay hidden from people who might be able to bring the racist person around to a more respectful world view. One of the lessons from the recent presidential election is that “fake it till you make it” doesn’t help to solve racism, sexism, etc.


Moreover, 0.3 compared to what? Compared to 1.0 that’s a hell of a lot, but compared to Trump 1000 it’s a drop in the bucket.

Also, blind side? Is that a slur I’ve never heard of before?


Punching also works.

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Depends on what you mean by ‘solve’. Change racist people’s minds? No, but that’s no easy task and might not even be possible in our lifetimes. Make life slightly more tolerable for people who suffer to racism by changing what is ‘acceptable’? Maybe…

I’d also argue that people weren’t so ‘hidden’ before the election season began, but that’s a discussion for another day.


c.f. Brexit and that last US election.

This actually bothers me. . . it seems like nothing is wrong unless white guys say it’s wrong. When white guys complain, they get results.

I’m a white guy. . . and this is annoying. . .


I found the study mentioned in “” and it reported the difference as “roughly 27 percent”. So it looks like we’re talking decimal percentages here.


And a side effect of anything that takes this type of dialog out of the air is lessening of the transmission rate. That is to say, young folks learn less racism. It’s a slow process.

Edited to add one last sentence.


The paper is at his website. The 0.27 appears to be a change in the regression parameter, but as I’m too lazy to look at the supplementary materials I don’t know what model he’s fitting, for example whether he did a linear or log-linear regression (I suspect the latter), so I can’t say more without doing some actual work. If it is a linear regression and the parameter is the coefficient of racist tweet count then it would be a 27% average reduction in the number of racist tweets per time period, which is pretty good.


My half-brother’s grandfather had certain opinions about his black neighbors but purposefully avoided expressing them around my brother because he didn’t want to impede him from making friends with the neighborhood kids.

Despite those opinions, he realized that my brother was better off learning that everyone is equal. I’m sure he figured that my brother would figure out the “truth” later and did get less careful as he got older.

But this is still a good example of how making racism unpopular slows the spread to the younger generation.


The most common term for this is the “bicycle pose”: treading on those seen as below you and kowtowing to those you think are above you.

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I’ve also heard it described as “punch down kiss up”.

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