Social Media

Friday, 10 February 2017

Webwatch: University team developing tool to monitor Brexit-related hate crime

Written by Claire Hayhurst

Researchers have been awarded a £250,000 grant to help the Government monitor Brexit-related hate crime on social media.

A team at Cardiff University is to develop a monitoring tool that displays a live feed of the spread of hate speech on Twitter.

The researchers will use Brexit as a demonstrator of how a "trigger" event can lead to the online sharing of hate related to religion, immigration and xenophobia.

The team, at the university's Centre for Cyberhate Research, is collecting data over a 12-month period starting from June 23 last year, when the UK voted to leave the European Union.

State-of-the-art machine learning technologies will be used to classify, analyse and evaluate tweets in real-time.

Professor Matthew Williams, principal investigator and co-director of the Social Data Science Lab at the university, said: "Hate crimes have been shown to cluster in time and tend to increase, sometimes significantly, in the aftermath of 'trigger' events.

"The referendum on the UK's future in the European Union has galvanised certain prejudiced opinions held by a minority of people, resulting in a spate of hate crimes.

"Many of these crimes are taking place on social media.

"Over the coming period of uncertainty relating to the form of the UK's exit, decision makers, particularly those responsible for minimising the risk of social disorder through community reassurance, local policing and online governance, will require near-real-time information on the likelihood of escalation of hateful content spread on social media.

"This new funding will provide the system and evidence needed to achieve this."

The funding is being provided by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Researchers will develop the monitoring tool to identify hate speech on social media as soon as it happens after a trigger event.

It will include a dashboard for policy makers and analysts that will provide details of precursors to hate speech.

These include the type of social media user, characteristics of their network, the type of hate expressed, the content posted - including hashtags - and external factors such as mass media reporting.

The centre is working with the National Police Chiefs' Council, the Online Hate Crime Hub at the London mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, and the Metropolitan Police.

Several anti-hate crime charities including Tell MAMA, Faith Matters and the Community Security Trust are also involved.

Pete Burnap, computational lead and co-director at the Social Data Science Lab, said: "To date the information available to government on topics such as hate speech around Brexit has been post-hoc and descriptive.

"What is needed are open and transparent methods that are replicable, interpretable and applicable in real-time as events are unfolding.

"We will be enhancing our existing language models using cutting-edge computational methods to mine massive amounts of public reaction and provide meaningful insights into hateful and antagonistic commentary within minutes of an event occurring."

The team has already done preliminary studies on the spread of hate speech on social media, including around the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013.

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