27 November 2019

“Urgent need” to tackle online hate speech

Cardiff University in Wales and its Hatelab partners with Mishcon de Reya to launch online hate speech report to tackle “urgent issue.”

By Dr David Cowan


Cardiff University and Mishcon de Reya have co-authored a report on online hate speech entitled ‘Hatred Behind the Screens.’ The report highlights the nature, scale and impact of online abuse as well as the existing legal framework and potential routes for redress.

Urgent issue

The authors call 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". Mishcon de Reya says it continues to work with clients who have experienced first-hand the scale and intensity of online hate speech and its ramifications including MP Luciana Berger. Commenting on the report, co-author Professor Matthew Williams said, “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.” 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,” adding “This report is an important first step in bringing an urgent issue to light.”


Following the launch of this report Professor Matthew Williams and his HateLab at Cardiff University, together with legal experts from Mishcon de Reya, will continue to monitor online hate speech and its effects with the intention to collaborate on further research which will form part of the solution. 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. Professor Williams says the university has established a means to track online hate speech through recognising trends  and other means, and is also looking the positive role counter speech can play. The report can be accessed here.

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