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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Online Dangerous Speech and Violence (ODAS)

Alternative title: Når fører hatefulle ytringer på nett til vold?

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

When and how does hateful online speech lead to real-world violence? Many violent events that dominate the news are preceded by online discussions. The uprisings on the “Arab Spring” were called “Twitter revolutions”, the storming of the US capitol was inspired by “QAnon” online posts, and propaganda on Facebook contributed to the 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. But this does not mean every hateful thing being said on the Internet leads to actual violence. In fact, hate-speech is everywhere, while violence is rare. To understand how online speech leads to offline harm, we need a closer look. ODAS will provide insights by studying Hindu-Muslim tensions in India both online and in the real world. The project is composed of four work packages (WPs). WP 1 will research by which mechanisms social media connects speakers and audiences: Does social media simply help coordinate riots and demonstrations, or does it change people’s perceptions in ways that make violence more likely? Surveys with social media users will help answer this question. WP 2 will develop software to automatically collect online posts from politically relevant actors in India. These posts will be subsequently analyzed for hostile sentiments in a two-step process: first, techniques from computational linguistics will be used to classify posts. In a second step, suspected calls to violence will be verified by coders in India, who have necessary context knowledge. WP 3 will research the contexts in which violence is most likely to erupt. To this end, geographic information on group concentrations, socio-economic conditions, and previous violence will be obtained. These data will be used to statistically analyze the contexts in which violence is most likely. WP 4 will combine the data collected in WP 2 and WP 3 to see if dangerous speech events systematically precede violence. Scholars from Norway, India, Germany, and the US form the project team.

Does hateful online speech lead to real-world violence between religious communities? This question remains unresolved and presents a puzzle: online hate speech is everywhere, while physical violence is rare. Previous research has focused on the role of social media in individual “hate crimes” or in uprisings against authoritarian rule. However, no large-scale study has yet researched the role of online speech in recent deadly confrontations between Hindus and Muslims in India. ODAS will leverage insights from Dangerous Speech Theory (DST) to shed much-needed light on the consequences of online speech for offline harm. Following DST, the project will research the mechanisms connecting speakers and audiences in large-scale surveys. Additionally, a novel “Speech Event Dataset” will be coded, using both automated pre-selection and manual coding. Finally, rich context information on settlement locations, demographics, and conflict history will be assembled from existing sources. Combining these data, ODAS will be able to research the effects of online speech on offline harm accounting for context conditions. Beyond causal connections, ODAS will produce actionable predictions of regions at risk of future communal clashes. Theoretically, ODAS constitutes the first large-scale test of DST. Empirically, ODAS will deliver the first large-scale dataset of dangerous speech events and provide a rigorous test of their consequences for real-world violence. Methodologically, ODAS will break new ground: an innovative setup for coding speech events will be developed featuring automated processing and manual verification. Local conflict history and group demographics will be coded for all of India, benefitting a wider research program on communal conflicts. Key insights will be widely disseminated toward academic audiences, social media providers, stakeholders in India, and online audiences.

Funding scheme:

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser