Nice bot combats nasty tweets against women
A foreign bot is at work trying to influence the New Zealand election campaign. But it is not what you might think.
Canadian developers have created ParityBOTNZ, a Twitter account that counteracts toxic tweets directed at women running in the election.
Kasey Machin, co-founder of social enterprise tech company Areto Labs, told Stuff’s Tick. Tick podcast the idea came about after her attempts to encourage women into politics.
‘‘Almost everyone came back and said that one of the major barriers to running for office was the amount of online hate that they were going to receive. And so that is really what led us to develop ParityBOT because it is such a problem.’’
Machin said they devised a technology solution to try to even things out.
‘‘We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect toxicity in the Twitter-verse, and then we turn those negative tweets into a positive tweet.’’
The first ParityBOT launched last year in Canada during federal and local elections but Machin said a connection with a colleague now living in New Zealand, Jacqueline Comer, led them to try it here, too. Comer said there was some discussion about how effective the bot would be in New Zealand, given its international reputation for ‘‘niceness’’.
‘‘There was a bit of concern and a bit of giggling before we actually turned the bot on to see: is it actually going to work in New Zealand? There is a passiveaggressive way of communicating here – will the bot even pick up on the nuances of Kiwi English? And we had to teach the bot some Kiwi colloquialisms as well.’’
So far, unfortunately, ParityBOTNZ is detecting plenty of toxic tweets. As of last week, out of 70,000 tweets the bot monitored, about 1200 were toxic enough to warrant a response.
About 80 per cent of the worst tweets were directed at the two main party
leaders, Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins, but plenty of other women were targeted too.
To trigger a response, the tweet is not just off-colour – it has to reach a certain threshold of obnoxiousness.
‘‘We have set it at a 90 per cent toxicity rate,’’ said Machin.
Examples of tweets which have triggered a response include: ‘‘@jacindaardern you are a ..... piece of .... that trough (sic) maori (sic) under the bus you racist ....’’ and ‘‘@JudithCollinsMP your hubby is a .... .....’’
Rather than reply directly to the offending tweet, the bot generates a standalone positive tweet from the ParityBOTNZ account, such as: ‘‘Ignore the trolls. Your voice matters and people are listening.’’
ParityBOTNZ is following about 60 women running in the New Zealand election and Comer said she hoped it would spark a change that spread around the world.
‘‘It would be amazing if the 5 million of us can understand this issue and can make a difference and call other people out. ParityBOT is great, we can call it out, we can send out positivity, but the more awareness we have about this issue, the more we understand it is a barrier for entry for women, women of colour, to actually participate in equal government,’’ Comer said.
Tick. Tick: Stuff’s 2020 election podcast is hosted by Stuff journalists Adam Dudding and Eugene Bingham. Subscribe via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
ParityBOT co-founder Kasey Machin first launched the tool in Canada.