Leveraging its national and global networks, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University announced an effort to form a first-of-its-kind thematic network of experts, educators, practitioners, and ambassadors that will facilitate, promote, and strengthen collaboration to counter youth-oriented hate speech online.

The initiative builds upon the “Viral Peace” project, which was inspired by the outcomes of a meeting at the Berkman Center in 2008, piloted at the U.S. Department of State in 2011, and now hosted at Berkman. The project seeks to fight hate speech online by enhancing the capabilities of youth, community leaders, social media influencers, and civic activists around the world to stand up to hate
and violence online. To form the thematic network, the Berkman Center, supported by the 2014 Class of Spring Fellows at the Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP), ­will work with partners such as former Special Representative to Muslim Communities at the U.S. Department of State and current IOP Fellow Farah Pandith, former Commissioner of the Boston Police Department and current IOP Fellow Ed Davis, tech entrepreneur Shahed Amanullah, the London-based Institute
for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), and other “Viral Peace” collaborators,
among others.

“Hate speech, in the broad sense of the term, affects youth the world over,” said Berkman Center Executive Director and Harvard Law School Professor of Practice Urs Gasser. “It’s a multi-faceted problem with many dimensions, and is closely tied to offline discrimination and violence targeting many demographic groups. We’re privileged to have the opportunity to build on years of work in promoting youth empowerment, analyzing critical speech issues online, and bringing many kinds of voices, perspectives, and areas of expertise together around the same table to collaborate.”

With the Berkman Center serving as the coordinator and research partner, the thematic network will aim to deepen our understanding of youth-oriented hate speech online; develop a set of curricula and learning modules that empower youth to appropriately respond to hate speech online (prevention and intervention mechanisms); field-test these teaching and learning materials on the ground; and
to create a network of collaborators worldwide that will include universities, institutions, and communities in every state in the U.S. and in countries on each continent.

The international, collaborative, and open thematic network will benefit from ISD’s groundbreaking work on countering extremist propaganda online, including its Against Violent Extremism (AVE) network of former-extremists and survivors of
extremism-turned-advocates, run in partnership with Google Ideas and
the GenNext Foundation.

“From the bomb attacks in Boston one year ago to Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway, we are all too regularly reminded of the ways in which extremists and terrorists are now using the Internet and social media — to radicalize, recruit, fundraise and even to organize attacks,” said Sasha Havlicek, ISD’s co-founding Director. “Too little has been done to date to effectively challenge the hate propaganda that not only undermines cohesion but puts lives at risk. Only an innovative partnership between academe, practitioners, the tech sector and those most able to legitimately push back and undermine extremist narratives, can take on this growing challenge. We are delighted, therefore, to be partnering in this important endeavor.”

The Berkman-led initiative was acknowledged by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism at The White House, who gave a major speech at the JFK Jr. Forum yesterday.