For a cartoonist, publication in The New Yorker is widely consider as the zenith, and artist Peter Steiner had submitted batches of cartoons regularly, and eventually began to appear in the magazine. In the early 1990s, the magazine accepted one that, in the next 20 years, would become the publication’s most reproduced cartoon.
You’ve probably seen it. It features a dog sitting in a chair with his paw on a computer keyboard, and he’s turned to speak to another dog watching from the floor. The caption reads: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Steiner’s cartoon, published in 1993, was prescient. It appeared two years after the introduction of the World Wide Web, and predates the Netscape browser, AOL, Compuserve, Microsoft’s internet browser and Yahoo! Google wouldn’t materialize for another five years.
“The cartoon resonated with our wariness about the facile façade that could be thrown up by anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of html,” former New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff told the Washington Post in 2016.
The point, of course, is that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet — a bit of advice attributed to Abraham Lincoln in an internet meme.
That’s what makes Facebook’s attempt to rein in hate speech on its popular platform seem like a paradox of folly and a necessity for its own survival.
Faced with the notion that international forces used Facebook to meddle in U.S. elections by flooding the site with misinformation, as well as posts from other users that include hate speech, harassment, and child sexual exploitation, Facebook has launched an initiative to clean up its services. It’s using artificial intelligence to ferret out harmful content before it’s seen by users.
Facebook reports that in the last six months, its effort removed or labeled more than 54 million pieces of content it deemed violent and graphic, 11.4 million posts that broke its rules prohibiting hate speech, 5.7 million uploads that ran afoul of bullying and harassment policies, and 18.5 million items determined to be child nudity or sexual exploitation.
It’s obviously a gargantuan and never-ending task. But individual users can help by employing a healthy dose of skepticism. That eye-popping Facebook post you just read might have come from “a real dog.”