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New Initiative To Debunk Online Misinformation, Hate Speech And Conspiracy Theories Launched Today In New Zealand

AUCKLAND, 4 June 2021 – Non-profit group Tohatoha officially launched a new initiative today that aims to educate people to help prevent the spread of disinformation about COVID-19, combat hate speech and address conspiracy theories that may spread quickly in New Zealand via social media.

In partnership with the organisation behind the Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT) app — co-founded by US-based researcher Emmi Bevensee — the initiative will track and scrutinise issues relevant to New Zealand that are trending on a range of internet platforms, allowing targeted New Zealand communities and organisations to understand where efforts should be focused to prevent the spread of misinformation and online hate.

SMAT uses an intuitive user interface with clear data visualisations to track the spread of hate driven misinformation/disinformation narratives on Reddit, 4chan, and 8kun, and other online platforms. The tool helps see who is driving the conversations, what links are being shared, and identify trends, creating a feedback loop that will assist communities to counter online hate and misinformation.

The partnership between Tohatoha and SMAT will also see Bevensee join Tohatoha’s staff as Chief Technology Officer and Misinformation Lead. Emmi is a data-scientist and open-source investigator focusing on hate, dis/misinformation, and complexity. They are an Edmund Hillary Fellow, a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, and formerly a Mozilla Open Web Fellow.

Tohatoha CEO, Mandy Henk, is thrilled that Bevensee is joining the team, and says the partnership is a key part of the organisation’s new strategic focus on preventing the spread of online disinformation and misinformation in New Zealand.

“Trust is so important to helping communities recognise misinformation online. SMAT is a great tool because it empowers communities to see for themselves what’s happening online. It allows teachers, librarians, and other community leaders to use data driven approaches when misinformation and hate speech are spreading in their communities--or targeting them.”

Tohatoha and SMAT have already collaborated on a report investigating the online spread of white supremacist, extremist, and conspiracy content during the 2020 New Zealand elections and the ways in which this content may have affected the offline world.

This report was recently presented as oral evidence to the Justice Committee at NZ Parliament in response to the government’s Inquiry into the 2020 General Election and Referendums.

For more information on Tohatoha’s work in New Zealand, visit https://tohatoha.nz.

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