Detect Then ACT (DeTACT): “Taking Direct Action against Online Hate Speech by Turning Bystanders into Upstanders”

Cross-border EU initiative to help counter online hate speech

Antwerp, Belgium, February 24, 2020

Universities, tech companies, NGO’s and citizens in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, supervised by a board of security, legal and ethics experts, are working together to find answers to online hate speech that is dividing our societies, in an initiative supported by the European Commission’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme.

Online hate speech has seen a disturbing growth in recent years, particularly in response to the migrant crisis. Today, social media networks sometimes function as echo chambers, facilitating the anonymous expression of more radical views than in face-to-face interaction. As a consequence, hate speech has been able to infiltrate various types of public discourse online. For example, in Germany there has been a rise in extremist propaganda on social media, openly inciting violence towards refugees. Europol has also observed that violent extremism is expanding, “partly fueled by fears of a perceived Islamization of society and [partly by] anxiety over migration”.

DeTACT aims to combine human application with new AI, to monitor online hate speech and to create campaigns with positive responses. These campaigns will focus on promoting bystanders to stand up, fostering citizens to be better equipped to challenge misunderstanding, misinformation, conflict, bullying, racism and sexism on social media networks.

Assisted by technology for identifying toxic language, upstanders can then work to deflate toxic discussions in a self-regulatory approach. The project will also report illegal cases of extremism and radicalisation, following the EU’s regulations in collaboration with social media tech companies.

While Belgian tech company Textgain and the University of Hildesheim in Germany are currently developing new language technology to identify violent and illegal content in different European regions, the CSO Media Diversity Institute Global,  will be training hundreds of social media users to stand up to hatred using positive messaging, building their critical thinking as well as resilience. They will be assisted by social scientists at the University of Antwerp and Dutch research and consultancy company EMMA. The Karel de Grote art school in Belgium meanwhile is involving dozens of art students across Europe to design non-offensive memes that can be used to counter dehumanising visual propaganda that is being spread on social media.

The group aims to show what ordinary citizens can do to challenge polarising narratives online.

The project started in September 2019 and will run until September 2021.

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