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Online hate speech report launched

26 November 2019

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A new report addressing the nature, scale and impact of online abuse has been launched by Cardiff University in collaboration with leading law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Entitled Hatred Behind the Screens, the report calls for tougher internet regulation and a statutory duty of care – enforced by an independent regulator – to make big tech companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and for dealing with harm caused by content or activity on their services.

The report explains how online hate speech has risen over the past two years and how certain 'trigger' events such as terror attacks, general elections and the Brexit referendum can lead to spikes in the volume of online hate speech.

It describes how social media and other "intermediary" platforms enable the spread of hate speech while being largely shielded from legal liability seeing as they are viewed as "platforms not publishers".

The report was co-authored by Professor Matthew Williams, from the School of Social Sciences, whose work with HateLab has continued to provide vital information about online abuse.

HateLab is a global hub for data and insight into hate speech and crime. Using data science methods, including ethical forms of AI, the initiative was set up to measure and counter the problem of hate both online and offline.

The Online Hate Speech Dashboard has been developed by academics with policy partners to pre-empt outbreaks of hate crime on the streets. It has been established with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as well as the US Department of Justice. It has received in excess of £1.7million in funding over five ongoing projects.

There is no doubt that online hate speech is on the rise, that it is damaging to its victims, and that there is no clear mechanism in place to address it. To remedy this, we require a cohesive approach with input from politicians, academics, lawyers and the victims themselves, plus greater engagement from the wider public.

Professor Matthew Williams Chair in Criminology - School of Social Sciences, Director - ESRC Social Data Science Lab, Director - ESRC HateLab

"In the meantime, at Cardiff, we have established a means to track online hate speech. Through recognising trends and being able to clearly monitor the problem, we stand the best chance of identifying the root causes and therefore establishing the most effective remedies. We are just beginning to understand, for example, the positive role counter speech (any direct or general response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it) can have."

Mishcon de Reya Executive Partner James Libson said: "This report addresses a matter very close to the firm's heart. Online hate speech can have profound consequences for victims and society at large, and we recognise the current limitations of the law as an instrument to tackle it.“

A cornerstone of our work at Mishcon de Reya is to help our clients fight online abuse. We support the growing push in the UK and elsewhere for tougher internet regulation in order to address illegal content, and to define more clearly what this is. It is possible to regulate online hate speech without compromising freedom of speech, and we will be providing our views to the Law Commission's comprehensive review of hate crime legislation.”

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