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Ontario Tech University partners with Facebook to tackle online hate

Click to play video: 'University collaborating with Facebook to create Global Network Against Hate' University collaborating with Facebook to create Global Network Against Hate
Ontario Tech University is teaming up with social media giant Facebook with the aim of tackling online extremism – Jul 29, 2020

In an effort to combat increasing hate online, Ontario Tech University in Oshawa is partnering up with Facebook. The collaboration will see the creation of the Global Network Against Hate.

“There’s plenty of evidence of the upward trajectory of online and offline hate,” says Barbara Perry with the university’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism. “The network will have multiple points of contact who have the expertise or the language associated with the movement.”

The social media giant is putting up $500,000 towards the program. The money will help bring together academics, practitioners and other partners from around the world.

“We will use that collective knowledge to help develop concrete strategies to counter hate, whether that’s online or offline,” says Perry.

She says tackling online hatred and extremism has been a growing problem for governments, with a number of recent hate crimes tied to internet movements. This includes the van attack in Toronto, where a man ran into and killed multiple people — the suspect identified as an incel.

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Read more: Most Canadians want social media companies to do more about racism, hate online, Ipsos poll finds

“When we look at the lone actors like the van attack in Toronto or mosque attack in Quebec City, all of them have been very much engaged online,” she says. “Whether it’s passively, that is sort of absorbing what they are reading or viewing, or more actively in exchange with people online.”

This isn’t her first time working with Facebook. Recently her centre helped identify nearly 7,000 far-right sites, channels and pages linked to extremist views. She says with the network, they can help continue to make Facebook a safer place.

“We’re very hopeful this will continue to encourage Facebook to respond proactively to these hate entities online.”

The Global Network Against Hate is described as serving as a “go-to” hub that will provide high-level expertise to national, international and global partners.

Perry says with increasing tensions online surround the coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming U.S. election, it’s important to watch for extremist sites, as that anger could spill into the real world.

Read more: Starbucks halts Facebook ads amid movement to stop hate speech on social media

“This election promises to be even more polarizing. We’ve already seen it begin with the language (U.S. President Donald Trump) has used to describe COVID-19 virus,” she says.

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“It could move the extreme into the mainstream. Donald Trump’s sound bytes are not just on twitter, but a lot of it is on the mainstream media as well.”

The partnership is for the next five years. The network will also stage a bi-annual conference seeking solutions involving policymakers, law enforcement and other partners.

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