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Google supports study into on-line ‘hate’ behaviour


Researchers at the School of Social Sciences have joined forces with internet giants Google in a bid to help understand ‘hate speech’ on social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The Cardiff Online Social media ObServatory (COSMOS) - an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Social Sciences and the School of Computer Science and Informatics at Cardiff University – has secured an ESRC-Google Data Analytics Research grant to examine the character of hate speech on-line.

The proliferation of so-called 'hate speech' in social media is an area of growing concern as recent high profile events confirm. For the social sciences, the migration of hate speech to social media platforms affords new opportunities to study hateful and antagonistic behaviours in order to understand the impact of social media and to identify ways in which agencies can respond more effectively to its threats and consequences.

This project aims to study the 'social media ecosystem' to better understand how the complex combination of user behaviours, global communication networks, and flows of information interact to promote hateful and socially disruptive content.

The project involves advice and team mentoring from Google. The inter-disciplinary project team includes academics from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences (William Housley, Matthew Williams, Adam Edwards, and Jeff Morgan), from the Cardiff School of Computer Science and Informatics (Pete Burnap and Omer Rana), from the Cardiff School of Mathematics (Vincent Night) and from the Universities of Warwick (Rob Procter) and St. Andrews (Alex Voss).

Dr Pete Burnap, Cardiff School of Computer Science and Informatics, and co-investigator on the project said: “The main deliverable of the project will be a computational tool, informed by social science knowledge, that will allow users to forecast the spread of hateful content over digital networks, providing an opportunity for intervention before such content 'goes viral' potentially causing harm to individuals, minority groups and communities.”

Dr William Housley from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences who is leading the project said: “This is an innovative project that will generate computational social scientific insight into antagonistic online behaviour. The project will empirically explore the balance between community, social cohesion, identity and freedom of speech within digital society, economy and culture. 

“Policy makers, commercial providers and relevant agencies require empirical data and social scientific interpretation in order to shape policy formulation, intervention and inform wider debates about the emerging contours, rights and obligations of digital citizenship in a 21st Century Democracy. This project will contribute to this emerging civil requirement.”

Follow COSMOS on Twitter @cosmos_cardiff or visit the COSMOS website for more information:


Notes to editors

This is the fifth externally funded project awarded to the COSMOS team in the last 18 months. COSMOS is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) half a million pound investment that brings together social, political, health, mathematical and computer scientists to study the methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy dimensions of Big ‘Social’ Data. Their objective is to establish a coordinated international social science response to this new form of data in order to address next-generation research questions.