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Solutions to Online Hate weekend brings experts together

A workshop exploring ‘Research-based solutions to online hate and offline consequences’ organised by University of Canterbury (UC) academics quickly attracted a range of academics, experts, government officials and students.

Held last weekend (14-15 September), the workshop was initially organised by a small group of communications and political science academics to share research about solutions to online hate, and keep the conversations about racism going as the six month anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attack approached.

“It began a few months ago, speaking to colleagues in political sciences and communications, there was a sense that there was a lot of public discussion when 15 March first happened, but then it went quieter, so we wanted to look at research about solutions to online hate and offline consequences,” College of Arts Senior Lecturer Babak Bahador says.

The weekend workshop evolved in a series of panels with a range of UC academics, visitors from other universities, journalists and other experts, while the audience was made up of government officials, UC staff and students.

As news of the weekend spread, even Facebook sent a representative to join the event.

“The networking aspect was important. I got a better understanding of what the government is trying to do, with different ministries playing different roles from the international level, to domestic censorship, to law-making and community engagement here in New Zealand.

“People here at UC are doing a range of interdisciplinary research on understanding online hate and its solutions, from computational detection to the political and structural drivers to media stereotypes and framing.”

Dr Bahador believes that, in line with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments following 15 March, “we can be the nation that discovers the cure”.

“We are small enough to test ideas and find solutions. With anti-racism education, our media working together, laws against sharing objectionable material online, the Christchurch Call calling on social media platforms to reform and the example of our Prime Minister, we are already making progress.”

Guest panellists at the workshop included Susan Benesch, Director, Dangerous Speech Project, Anjum Rahman, Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, Marianne Elliott, Co-Director, The Workshop, Kamala Hayman, Editor of The Press and Stuff Canterbury, Donna Miles-Mojab, freelance journalist and The Press columnist, Holly Griffin, Healthy Families Christchurch and Sheen Handoo from Facebook (Public Policy Manager based in Singapore).

UC academics and PhD candidates involved in the event included Suvojit Bandopadhyaya, Ben Elley, Steven Ratuva, Jeremy Moses, Pascale Hatcher, Zita Joyce, Wan Chi Leung, Tara Ross, Ursula Cheer, Jim Ockey, Donald Matheson, Jakob Kristensen, Geoff Ford, Naimah Talib, Zahra Emamzadeh and Wael al-Soukkary.

The research and the discussions will continue, Dr Bahador says, with edited collections, workshops and other initiatives at UC being planned.

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