The Alan Turing Institute’s Public Policy Programme has today (Monday 5 October) published a new policy briefing: An agenda for research into online hate.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving new and unanticipated forms of online hate. The United Nations Secretary-General has described a ‘tsunami of hate and xenophobia’ being unleashed and has appealed for 'an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.’ The authors of this agenda echo his concerns. The pandemic has also exposed the limitations of our existing responses to online hate. Equally, the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests have also highlighted the divisions, inequalities and injustices that still exist globally.

Released against the backdrop of these challenges, this new research agenda considers how academic expertise could be used to better inform how online hate is tackled to minimise its effects, build actionable solutions and provide support to its victims. Researchers from the Turing’s Public Policy Programme have developed a six-point agenda to help achieve the goal of policy-oriented and problem-driven academic research into online hate.

The agenda, which also highlights the need for social media companies to ‘open-up’ to help tackle online hate, has been developed through interviews and discussions with a range of stakeholders, as well as events and workshops, literature surveys and new empirical research.

The six points of the agenda are:

  1. More research is needed into the long-term effects of online hate
  2. Research into online hate should be solution-driven and informed by the concerns and priorities of stakeholders
  3. Research into online hate needs to be flexible and responsive, balancing long-term studies with insights that have an immediate impact
  4. Definitions in the area of online hate research should be stated clearly, and all assumptions made explicit
  5. Data-intensive technologies, if used, must be used responsibly
  6. A positive vision of the Internet must be articulated and defended

Additionally, the authors have identified three key recommendations which they believe will foster the kind of high impact, solution-oriented research needed to address the growing problem of hate speech. This includes:

  • Research collaboration: More opportunities for collaboration across sectors need to be created, including opportunities for joint-working.
  • Incentivisation from policy makers and funders: Targeted incentivisation is needed to assemble multi-disciplinary teams with the required social and computational expertise, and to conduct robust, impactful research at scale.
  • Social media companies need to open-up: engagement with social media platforms will be essential to tackling online hate - although they are part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.

Policy briefing author and Research Fellow, Bertie Vidgen said, 'This briefing is released at a time when COVID-19 is driving new forms of online hate and highlighting the limits of our existing responses. Our new research agenda details clear, actionable ways that academic knowledge can help tackle the long-term effects of online hate and support its victims.’’

The report’s authors have conducted this research as part of a wider project on online hate speech at the Turing.

This work was supported by Wave 1 of The UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund under the EPSRC Grant EP/T001569/1, particularly the “Criminal Justice System” theme within that grant & The Alan Turing Institute.