This Plugin Strikes Out Hate Speech on Twitter With the Rainbow Flag

Rethink's newest shot in the war on homophobia

When ad agency Rethink and Canadian LGBTQ+ advocacy group the Emergence Foundation last teamed up against hate speech, they hit the streets of Montreal, posting hard copies of homophobic and transphobic messages from the Internet to build support for flagging and scrubbing such rhetoric online. 

Now, taking a very different approach, albeit with the same goal in mind, the pair just launched a Google Chrome plugin called Pride Flagging that automatically strikes through homophobic terms on Twitter with the colors of the Pride flag, making it easy for users to report offenses. 

Click the image to see how it works: 

Twitter was the right place to launch "Pride Flagging," says Rethink creative director Xavier Blais, "because it's still very lax in regulating and banning users from their platform, Alex Jones being the perfect poster child." 

While plugins designed to combat cyberhate have been tried before, this particular implementation feels especially poignant. Flagging offensive speech with the flag itself, a symbol of inclusiveness and equality, adds an extra dimension of meaning. It's as if the banner flew into action, neutralizing the  egregious words on screen. (The campaign recalls "Destination Pride," also from Canada, which uses the flag's color bars to represent how safe various world cities are for LGBTA+ visitors.) 

By some measures, a homophobic remark is posted online every 23 seconds. Using a list of 50 discriminative terms in 10 languages, "Pride Flagging" seeks to increase the reporting of hate speech by 60 percent in the next few months.

"Flagging still is a marginal online behavior, and we aim for more people to develop that reflex when confronted with discriminatory language," says Laurent Breault, general manager of the Emergence Foundation. "These few clicks could make a real difference in the lives of millions of LGBTQ+ individuals," especially since hate speech can spark suicide.

It should be noted that users still must decide if the words constitute hate speech and report them. "Ultimately, we'd like to weed out the non-instances automatically," says Blais. "For example, if someone writes, 'Someone called me a faggot today,' they're not insulting or threatening anyone. We're aiming for that in the coming updates." 

Rather than attempt another initiative with an immediate IRL overlap, "we felt we had to create something that offered a concrete option to people who want to help," Blais says. "We're perfectly conscious that only a fraction of people will actually download the extension, flag some words, report them, and send us some comments on how to make it better. But if we're moving the needle at least a tiny bit, and helping people develop their reflex to report or flag offensive terms, we'll be more than happy." 

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.