Hopes new technology will prevent terror and Brexit-related hate crime

Researchers are developing new artificial intelligence to tackle a surge in hate crimes after they rose to their highest levels since records began.

It is hoped the technology will allow police and the government to preempt outbreaks of hate crime by monitoring online speech responding to national events including Brexit.

The Online Hate Speech Dashboard is being designed by Cardiff University researchers at its ‘HateLab’, a project that has been tasked with assessing the impact of national events on levels of hate crimes and speech.

Hate crime rose by 17% to reach its highest level since records began during 2017/18, with 94,098 incidents recorded by police.

A graph showing levels of hate crime in 2017/18 supplied by Cardiff University
A graph showing levels of hate crime in 2017/18 supplied by Cardiff University

Experts believe the terror attacks in Westminster, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park last year were the main reasons behind the rise, and authorities are wary that the UK’s departure from the EU could trigger a further spike.

Principle investigator Professor Matthew Williams, said: “Brexit has drawn sharp divisions in society, and the seemingly impossible promises made by leave-backing MPs have created a great sense of disillusionment in millions of citizens.

“In 2019, Britain is likely to be in its most severe crisis in peacetime, and whatever the outcome, be it a second referendum, a soft-Brexit or a no-Brexit, there is concern that events will motivate more hate crime.

“As we saw following the 2016 vote, and to a more extreme extent following the 2017 terror attacks, surges in online hate speech coincided with significant increases in hate crimes offline.”

Professor Pete Burnap, computational lead on the projects, said: “To date, there have been significant delays in getting information to staff following ‘trigger’ events.

“The dashboard will allow key personnel to gain aggregate insights into online reactions to events, such as our exit from the EU and terror attacks, in the so-called ‘golden hour’.”

The online dashboard is being developed with the National Online Hate Crime Hub, which was announced by then-home secretary Amber Rudd in 2016 in response to a rapid increase in online hate speech after the EU referendum.

An additional grant, awarded under the Economic and Social Research Council’s ‘Governance After Brexit’ programme in November, will enable HateLab to assess if events of national interest led to genuine rises in hate crime perpetration, which would counter arguments that recorded spikes were only down to victims being more willing to report crimes to police.

The HateLab research will be showcased to MPs, Lords, senior civil servants and policymakers at an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting at Westminster in early 2019.