Over the past year, tech platforms like Facebook and Instagram have received tens of thousands of complaints about malicious content, sometimes waged by ‘stalkers’ or repeat harassers, that didn’t go anywhere. We set out to find an easy, accessible tool for the public to easily file complaints on their behalf.
This fall, we launched the #311 Complaint Assistant, an easy-to-use algorithm that analyzes public feeds to search for reports about certain types of online abuse, discrimination and harms. The system works by categorizing these complaints based on location or key words—such as ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘expressive freedom’—then parses each post or hashtag into a one-line complaint. If you want to tweet a complaint, it’s as simple as hitting the button on your phone.
If a hashtag or a user tag appears at the end of your post, you’ll also receive an email from 311 telling you to give 311 a call for a support number. More than 17,000 Facebook users have reported their hateful speech, harassment and discrimination within the last year. They’ve given 311 the ability to potentially flag and remove offensive content (and make your concerns visible to lawyers and human rights groups).
Our hope is that this approach will result in fewer reports, fewer complaints, and faster action. But can it be that easy? Could you file a complaint about Donald Trump without leaving your house?
We built this service to harness the public’s voice and bridge the gap between the tech platforms that power our world and the governments that administer it. The public voices have captured the conversations on social platforms from racial discrimination to online hate speech. Now the platforms are taking note, and now they are giving us the tools to hold them accountable and help address abuse and discrimination online.
While we’ve made progress, let’s not stop here. We will continue to improve our tool and encourage you to speak up by filing a report. Not only will you help eliminate the words and images you don’t want around you but you will also build a stronger internet for us all.