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University researchers to help Facebook counter hate speech

30 May 2019
New research will support efforts to stop spread of online hate
Researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are the first University of Sydney academics to receive research support from Facebook.

Dr Aim Sinpeng from the Department of Government and International Relations and Dr Fiona Martin from the Department of Media and Communications have been awarded funding by Facebook to help the social media giant understand how better to regulate hate speech online in the Asia Pacific region.

With colleagues from the University of Queensland, they were awarded more than $77,000 for a ‘Content Policy Research on Social Media Platforms’ Research Award

The team will spend 12 months investigating the legal definitions of hate speech in a range of Asian countries, how Facebook identifies and responds to hate online, and how it can improve its policies and procedures to better tackle the rise of hate networks. 

After auditing online hate speech regulation in Asia-Pacific countries, the researchers will then map examples of hate speech networks in order to understand how harmful content is amplified, what type of actors are involved, and how their activities can be mitigated.

As well as being the first University of Sydney researchers to receive funding from Facebook, Dr Sinpeng and Dr Martin are two of only a small number of humanities and social sciences scholars worldwide whose research has been funded by the world’s largest social media platform.

In awarding this funding, Facebook has recognised these academics for their extensive expertise in Asian politics and on Facebook political engagement (Dr Sinpeng) and in the governance of social media environments (Dr Martin).

“Facebook rarely gives grants to non-computer science researchers. This was indeed the first time that they requested proposals from non-STEM experts,” Dr Sinpeng said.

The fact that we received this award shows our strengths in leveraging humanities and social science expertise to solve a major problem faced by the biggest social media company in the world.
Dr Aim Sinpeng

Dr Martin said: “It is wonderful to be part of Facebook’s effort to collaborate with researchers from across the globe in tackling this insidious problem, and helping it address its content regulation challenges.

“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.”

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Professor Annamarie Jagose congratulated Dr Sinpeng and Dr Martin on the funding success. 

“It is great to see our researchers secure funding from new and non-traditional sources to support their pace-setting research. This funding will support valuable work that seeks to address a modern problem – in this case, hate speech on social media – that requires inventive and urgent responses,” Professor Jagose said.

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