The liturgy of Yom Kippur includes the phrase “we have not been satisfied with the previous ways to sin, so we have found new ways”. On a day devoted to cleansing and starting afresh, it’s a poignant statement about the nature of innovation, and how it can be applied for both good and evil. How much technology innovation has been driven by the military – essentially to find more better ways to kill people? In the same way, the internet revolution has helped people find new ways to hate.
An Australian organisation – the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) led by Dr Andre Oboler – has been at the forefront of the ongoing battle against online hate. But this battle is a very difficult one. While in the past, it was relatively easy to identify and define hate speech, today the landscape of communication has been so disrupted and democratised by the internet that even defining hate speech in an objective way has its challenges. The volume of communication has increased by orders of magnitude so it’s not enough to be reactive in dealing with hate speech when and where it is found. The approach of OHPI is geared more towards improving the very large systems that respond to and regulate online communication so they are better able to deal with hate speech in a consistent and scalable manner.
After 18 months operating on the smell of an oily rag (like most nascent not-for-profits), OHPI is now going to the world for funding. As an organisation well embedded in the world of social media, they are using these same tools to reach out to their prospective supporter base. They have received a dollar-for-dollar matching grant from the Schusterman foundation, which both supports the campaign, but also illustrates the global nature of their work.
While OHPI’s work happens to be based in Australia and run by Jews (and sadly indigenous Australians and Jews are too often the target of online hatred), the battlefield is truly a global one. We celebrate Aussie technology startups making it on the world stage, so it stands to reason that we should also celebrate innovative Aussie not-for-profits who are facing up to modern challenges on behalf of communities all over the world.
This was also posted as: “Aussie Jews leading the fight against hate“, News and Views from Jews Down Under, 13 September 2013