Harvard University

New Publications Examine Harmful Speech Online

These new papers include exploration of the challenges of defining hate speech, assessment of efforts to address racist speech online in South America, and consideration of the legal foundations of harmful speech regulation in India.

December 8, 2016 – The Harmful Speech Online project at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is pleased to announce a new set of publications authored by a global and multidisciplinary group of project collaborators within our community. Harmful speech is proliferating online, and calls to restrain it come from virtually every country and community. Over the past several years, harmful speech online has received much more public and media attention and has emerged as one of the central challenges for Internet policy experts, often pitting protections for freedom of expression online against the rights and interests of those that are subject to online harassment.

This collection of publications includes an assessment of the efforts of civil society organizations to address racist speech in Brazil and Colombia; a study of the legal foundations of harmful speech regulation in India; a paper that explores the definitional and framing questions that complicate efforts to study and address harmful speech online; and a research note that offers reflections and observations on the state of research related to harmful speech online. The perspectives outlined here are grounded in the lessons from a year of exploratory work in the field.

The papers include:

  • “Defining Hate Speech” by Andy Sellars
    This essay seeks to review various attempts to define hate speech, and highlight a series of traits that can be used to frame hate speech. The paper also explores tensions between hate speech and principles of freedom of expression and analyzes historical attempts to define the term in the United States.
     
  • “Preliminary Findings on Online Hate Speech and the Law in India” by Chinmayi Arun and Nakul Nayak
    This case study outlines preliminary issues noted while conducting a detailed study of hate speech laws in India and teases out some of the major concerns that arise in the context of both online and offline hate speech.​
     
  • “Grassroots Perspectives on Hate Speech, Race, and Inequality in Brazil and Colombia” by Niousha Roshani
    This study discusses efforts and interventions select civil society organizations in Latin America have employed to counter racial stigma faced by the collective population of Afro-descendant youth, in an attempt to understand and examine signs of impact related to hate speech in Brazil and Colombia.
     
  • “Understanding Harmful Speech Online: Research Note” by Robert Faris, Amar Ashar, Urs Gasser, Daisy Joo
    This paper offers reflections and observations on the state of research related to harmful speech online. The perspectives outlined here are grounded in the lessons from a year of exploratory work in the field by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center and collaborating researchers and institutions. Understanding Harmful Speech Online is part of the Berkman Klein Center’s recent Networked Policymaking Series, and serves as a guide for researchers, as well as decision makers in public, private, and civil society organizations seeking to better understand and make informed decisions on this issue.

A key element of the Harmful Speech Online Project is to explore different approaches to the study of harmful speech and to draw lessons from comparative analysis. We chose to pursue this diverse set of research efforts in the first year of the project in order to better understand the strengths and limitations of various research strategies and to assess why different types of interventions exist in some contexts and are missing in others.

The work of the Berkman Klein community related to issues of harmful speech online is expansive and not comprehensively represented here. A small selection of work is highlighted in the research note, as well as in this Q&A which accompanies the papers in this release.

More information about the Harmful Speech Online project is available at: https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/harmfulspeech.

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