Software giant Microsoft is rolling out a new tool to tackle hate speech and defamatory content online, with a dedicated web form to report hateful content and a petition-style tool to reinstate content.

The move comes after online abuse reached a new peak recently, as trolls targeted comedienne Leslie Jones on Twitter, and then someone hacked into her personal website and exposed her private information.

Up to 40 percent of internet users have experienced harassment at one point or another. Most do not consider Microsoft to be in the same bracket of Twitter, Reddit and Facebook for hateful speech. But it is attempting to get ahead of the game.

Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer at Microsoft, revealed the news in a blog post. She said: “While neither our principles nor our policies are changing, we are refining some of our processes to make it easier for customers to report hate speech.

“We will continue our notice-and-takedown approach for removing prohibited content on hosted consumer services. The new form aims to improve the quality and speed of our reviews.”

Online effect

Instagram recently rolled out a new feature for ‘power users’ to battle trolls, enabling well-known users to remove some – or indeed all – comments from their posts. Ryan Lochte removed all comments from his Instagram after being inundated with abuse after #LochMess. This left him clinging to his credible reputation.

Instagram currently receives more than one million reports of abuse every week. The same community safety team Facebook uses to review flagged posts deal with these. But the backlog is often too large for the team to deal with. As a result, they only remove the most highly concerning comments.

Microsoft owns search engine Bing, as well as video game console Xbox, the digital services market (through MSN) and other services including Outlook, Skype and Office 365. Hopefully, the new feature will solve a long-standing issue of online hate speech across varying platforms.

“When we receive a report of hate speech, we will evaluate each complaint. We consider context, and determine appropriate action with respect to the content and the user’s account”, said Beauchere.

“Microsoft is committed to creating safe online communities where our customers can learn, play, grow and interact without the threat of violence or hatred. That’s why for many years we’ve sought to protect our customers by prohibiting hate speech and removing such content from our hosted consumer services.

Content removal

Generally, the removal of comments is at the platform’s discretion. This faces the difficulty of having a fast rule on content. Often, there are inconsistencies as to which comments are deemed to break rules and which do not.

Microsoft’s new ruling will not only allow the removal of comments. It also allows the reinstatement of content when a wide range of users deem it to be acceptable.

“We already provide customers, within various consumer products and services, the means to ask us to review a content removal decision they feel was made in error. And, just as we’re making it simpler to report hate speech, we’re also adding a new multi-service reconsideration form. Through this, users can request the reinstatement of wrongly disabled content.”

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