Hate speech and big data: The ODyCCEuS project

Social media, the digitization of news and online fora affect significantly how individuals and groups communicate, express and organize themselves. An open discussion between international scholars on “Hate Speech and Big Data: ODYCCEUS conference in Digital History and Digital Humanities” took place at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice from October 18th to 20th as part of the ODyCCEuS research project.

Seven universities including Ca’ Foscari initiated a research network to understand how social and cultural conflict emerge and spread. Through language analysis and its use online and in social media an increasing number of crises related to cultural differences and diverging world-views is monitored. Conflicts are therefore dealt with before they lead to violence. The project called ODyCCEuS – Opinion Dynamics and Cultural Conflict in European Space - is funded by Horizon 2020 “Future and Emerging Technologies” and includes the Max Planck Institute and Leipzig University (Germany), Paris 6 and Paris 7 universities (France), Chalmers University of technology (Sweden), the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Vrjie Univesiteit in Brussels (Belgium), and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

Social interaction through our digitized and connected present is increasingly fast, intense and dense and thus more and more difficult to track. Its analysis is complex because of the extreme mobility that undermines the learning outcome of individuals’ experience, giving rise to potential conflicts.

“Conflict is not the mere result of diverging interests, but the result of how diverging cultures and world-views filter and shape one’s interaction, individual and social representation as well as one’s intentions leading to one’s action”, the research team at Ca’ Foscari explained. The team is made of Massimo Warglien (team coordinator, Department of Management), Marco Li Calzi (Department of Management), and Simon Levis Sullam (Department of Humanities), as well as Roland Muhlenbernd, Deborah Paci and Rocco Tripodi. “We need conflict theories that include intention and representation - and do not only focus on people’s interests”.

The symposium that took place at Ca’ Foscari aimed at analyzing Big Data (the tools and methodologies to translate such large and heterogeneous data to unveil correlations between different phenomena in order to prevent future events) to grasp how hate speech emerges and spreads.

Digital History - and more specifically Digital Text Analysis and network analysis - focuses on anti semitism in 19th century France with the famous democratic crisis that emerged with the Dreyfus affair. “Big Data represents a corpus of about 60,000 texts from the Gallica database of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (” Levis Sullam explained. “In these texts we will analyze the chronological concentration and the ideological topic involved: religious, economic and political antisemitism”. The “Protocols of the Elderly of Zion” - - an infamous anti semitic forgery that spread the idea of a global Jewish conspiracy at the beginning of the 20th century that is still widely spread nowadays in many languages - and more specifically its French sources are another historical case study whose textual sources are analyzed with a digital approach.

The symposium involved experts from Ca’ Foscari such as Walter Quattrociocchi who focuses on debunking fake news, Luc Steels computational linguistic expert, Dorit Raines and Stephen White who spoke about a pilot project on automatic transcription of manuscripts, and international experts such as Richard Rogers, professor of New Media at the University of Amsterdam, and Franco Moretti, founder of the Literary Lab at Stanford University.

“We hope that the use of the latest technologies in human sciences and a dialogue between qualitative and quantitative approaches may allow for more complex interpretations of conflictual collective behaviors with political, cultural and religious roots in order to foresee a more tolerant future that would be open to knowledge and reciprocal acceptance”, Levis Sullam concluded.