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Facebook starts funding university research projects to “counter hate speech”

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Facebook is stepping up its efforts to censor what it deems to be “hate speech” by funding a new research project from the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland titled “Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific.” The research project has already shown signs of being swayed by political bias with one of the researchers citing the Christchurch Call when talking about the project.

Facebook is funding the research under its “Content Policy Research on Social Media Platforms” research awards program and giving over $77,000 to the project. The research project claims that it will help Facebook “counter hate speech” and “stop spread of online hate.”

The 12-month research project will involve:

  • Investigating legal definitions of “hate speech” in a range of Asian countries
  • Looking at how Facebook identifies and responds to “hate” online
  • Looking at ways Facebook can improve its policies and procedures to better tackle the rise of “hate networks”
  • Mapping examples of “hate speech networks” in the focus countries of India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Australia

The researchers will use their findings to understand:

  • How “harmful content” is amplified
  • What type of actors are involved
  • How their activities can be mitigated

Dr. Martin, one of the researchers for the project, said:

“In light of the Christchurch Call, this is a critical moment for building a worldwide effort against the spread of organised hate speech, and we aim to help with that.”

This reference to the Christchurch Call, a non-binding agreement which aims to tackle terrorist content online, is concerning. Many critics believe the Christchurch Call will have a negative impact on free speech and the US refused to sign for this reason. By expressing support for the Christchurch Call, this researcher is indicating that these same free speech concerns may be ignored during this research project.

Facebook says that it’s funding this research to develop better content policies and assess possible interventions. However, the research will also benefit Facebook by giving more academic credibility to the subjective term “hate speech” that it often uses to censor people on its platforms.

The announcement of this “hate speech” research project follows news that universities are starting to expel students for jokes and pranks that they deem to be online “hate speech.”

It also comes after Facebook has taken its efforts to censor “hate speech” to Orwellian extremes by saying that private conversations may be categorized as “hate speech” and hiring 30,000 content moderators to police “hate speech.”

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