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Spray Can Stunt Prompts Twitter to Act on Hateful Tweets

Artist Shahak Shapira said he doesn't advocate mass censorship, but wants Twitter to take the issue of online abuse seriously

The Twitter symbol appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, photo: AP/Richard Drew, File
1 month ago

BERLIN – An artist tired of seeing hateful tweets ignored by Twitter has managed to get the social network to remove or hide some of them — by spray-painting the offending posts in front of the company’s German headquarters.

Shahak Shapira said he reported some 300 tweets containing possible illegal content to Twitter over a period of about six months but the social networking site ignored him. This occurred at a time when Twitter was arguing against tough new legislation in Germany, insisting it was already taking sufficient measures against hate speech.

Shapira said he painted almost 30 of the offending tweets on the street in front of Twitter’s Hamburg offices Friday because “flagging things clearly wasn’t enough.”

“I had to spray it on the ground,” he told a news agency in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The Israeli-born artist said he never got any kind of direct response from Twitter, either before or after the stunt.

But a video of it received over 100,000 views in 48 hours and clearly got the company’s attention. By Wednesday, Twitter had deleted three tweets, suspended four accounts and withheld another seven accounts in Germany.

Fifteen other tweets, including some containing anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-black comments, were still online.

Shapira said he doesn’t advocate mass censorship, but wants Twitter to take the issue of online abuse seriously. A study commissioned by the German government found that Twitter lagged behind other social networks such as Facebook and YouTube in responding to complaints about hate speech.

“It would be nice if Twitter had reacted,” said Shapira, whose previous work includes questioning the way young people confront the Holocaust. “What I want is that these flagged posts are reviewed the way Facebook does. What Facebook does isn’t perfect, but at least they are making an effort.”

Under pressure after Germany passed a law last month that could see social networks fined up to 50 million euros ($58.6 million) if they fail to swiftly remove illegal content, Facebook announced plans this week for a second office in Germany to review posts for illegal content. Free speech advocates have criticized the law, saying social networks may err on the side of censorship to avoid hefty fines.

Twitter refused to publicly comment on the stunt after first being contacted by a news agency about it on Monday. Instead, the company cited its guidelines which include a ban on promoting “violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity.”

Among the spray-painted tweets that remain online is one directed at Shapira from a user who references the artist’s Jewish identity and expresses hope that he should bump into a group of criminals on a dark evening.


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