Edmonton tech company targeting gender parity in U.S. election
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton company is battling negative Twitter bots with a bot of its own.
Long associated with internet trolls and misinformation, bots are commonly linked with the negative side of the online world, but ParityBOT aims to accomplish the opposite in the upcoming U.S. election.
“Most women experience at least some abuse,” said Lana Cuthbertson, co-founder of ParityBOT.
The software is designed to quantify that abuse, by identifying hostile tweets directed at women in politics or the public sphere, and responding in a positive way.
“It’s making a difference for them to sort of feel heard, at the very least, and then on top of that feel encouraged,” said Cuthbertson.
If an account tweets something at a candidate, ParityBOT scans it for key words associated with internet toxicity. If the bot finds the tweet is more than 95 per cent likely to be hostile, it sends a positive message to the candidate.
“I’ve been there,” said Kasey Machin, ParityBOT’s other co-founder. “I’ve had to be the frontline defense of that kind of negativity, and it’s awful.”
Their findings say about one in 20 tweets directed at women candidates in last year’s Alberta election were deemed “hostile” by their software.
Since then, ParityBOT’s impact has grown significantly.
“The internet and social media can be a really dark place, and I love that the strategy here is to fight hate with love,” said Katherine O’Neill, current CEO of the Edmonton YWCA, and a former political candidate.
“People would go after my children, my appearance, and call me a slut,” she said.
Many qualified women don’t pursue prominent public positions at all because of online harassment, said O’Neill.
“They just look at the space, and it’s really negative, personal, and very sexist.”
Beyond offering encouragement and support to women in politics, PartyBOT’s founders said there is outside interest in the work they’re doing.
Companies and organizations working for gender equality have reached out about using the software as part of their brand management strategy, said Cuthbertson.
The focus remains on empowering more women to enter the public sphere though, said Machin.
“We can expand this bot across the globe,” she said, “and show women that we know this is a problem and we’re going to be there to have their back.”