Oxford academics from the Experimental Psychology department are to help Twitter become less ‘toxic’ by studying “the health of public conversation” on the social networking site.

Alongside researchers from the University of Amsterdam, the Oxford academics will examine “how exposure to a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can decrease prejudice and discrimination.”

The study forms part of Twitter’s ongoing drive to combat hate speech and harassment, after the company came under fire for not taking a hard enough line against sexist and racist abuse on the site.

Professor Miles Hewstone, a social psychologist at Oxford, said: “Evidence from social psychology has shown how communication between people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways to decrease prejudice and discrimination.

“We’re aiming to investigate how this understanding can be used to measure the health of conversations on Twitter, and whether the effects of positive online interaction carry across to the offline world.”

In a blog post about its new partnerships, Twitter said: “We know this is a very ambitious task, and look forward to working with these two teams, challenging ourselves to better support a thriving, healthy public conversation.”

Twitter shares dropped by 15% last week after it announced it had lost over a million users in a drive to remove locked, inactive accounts.

Other social networking companies, including Facebook and YouTube, have previously faced similar public criticism for not preventing abuse and fake news in what some are calling a “techlash”.

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