Social Data Science Lab awarded ESRC grant to set up new Centre to monitor Brexit-related hate crime on social media

6 February 2017

esrc

Matt Williams and Pete Burnap have been awarded a quarter of a million pounds to help the UK Government monitor Brexit-related hate crime on social media.

The new Centre for Cyberhate Research and Policy, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, will focus on the development of a monitoring tool that displays a live feed of the propagation of hate speech as it happens on Twitter.

It is hoped the UK Government will be able to use the tool to identify areas that require policy attention and to improve interventions to stop hate crime from spreading.

Professor Matthew Williams, the principal investigator on the project and Co-Director of the Social Data Science Lab, said: “Hate crimes have been shown to cluster in time and tend to increase, sometimes significantly, in the aftermath of “trigger” events. The referendum on the UK’s future in the European Union has galvanized certain prejudiced opinions held by a minority of people, resulting in a spate of hate crimes. Many of these crimes are taking place on social media. Over the coming period of uncertainly relating to the form of the UK’s exit, decision makers, particularly those responsible for minimising the risk of social disorder through community reassurance, local policing and online governance, will require near-real-time information on the likelihood of escalation of hateful content spread on social media. This new funding will provide the system and evidence needed to achieve this.”

The research team will use Brexit as a demonstrator of how a certain “trigger” event can quickly lead to the spreading of hate related to religion, immigration and xenophobia online.

The team are collecting data over a 12-month period, starting from 23 June 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union. They will use state-of-the-art machine learning technologies to classify, analyse, and evaluate tweets in real-time.

The key innovation stemming from the project is an online monitoring tool that can identify hate speech on social media as soon as it happens after a certain “trigger” event.

This tool will include a dashboard for policy makers and analysts that will provide details of precursors to hate speech, such as type of social media user, characteristics of their network, the type of hate expressed, the content that is posted (such as URLs and hashtags) and external factors such as mass media reporting.

The Centre is working in close partnership with the UK Head of the Cross-Government Hate Crime Programme at the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the Online Hate Crime Hub at the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the Metropolitan Police Service, and several leading hate crime charities including Tell MAMA, Faith Matters and Community Security Trust.

Dr Pete Burnap, computational lead on the project and Co-Director at the Social Data Science Lab, said: “To date the information available to government on topics such as hate speech around Brexit has been post-hoc and descriptive. What is needed are open and transparent methods that are replicable, interpretable and applicable in real-time as events are unfolding. We will be enhancing our existing language models using cutting edge computational methods to mine massive amounts of public reaction and provide meaningful insights into hateful and antagonistic commentary within minutes of an event occurring”

Reports of hate crime both on and offline since the referendum on the UK’s future in the European Union have increased dramatically. In response and as part of the UK Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan, additional resources are being made available to protect places of worship and a review of policing hate crime will be conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Cardiff University’s Social Data Science Lab has world-leading expertise in the use of social media to monitor crime, and have successfully partnered with the Metropolitan Police Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Los Angeles Police Department.

The team have already undertaken several preliminary studies regarding the spreading of hate speech on social media, most notably around the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013. Within the past few months the Lab has received funding amounting to £700K from the ESRC to study the use of Open Source Communications in academic, government and third sector research settings. The Social Data Science Lab forms part of the ESRC £64M Big Data Network and is part of the University’s Data Innovation Research Institute. The Lab will form part of the University’s Social Science Research Park (SPARK) in its new £300m Innovation Campus.