Future of Communication Vol.1: “HateBrain”

Written on September 21, 2013 by mhasegawa in News


Hatebase is an open technology platform for monitoring and analyzing regionalized hate speech. This project was developed by  Mobiocracy and The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention. Masaaki Hasegawa, alumni of the Master in Visual Media had a chance to interview with Mr. Timothy Quinn, CTO of OMX, in order to explore the objective and the future vision of this unique project. Why do people tweet “Hate Speech”?

MH:  Thank you for taking the time. To better understand who are not familiar with this project, would you describe what is the objective of this unique project?

TQ: Hatebase is an open technology platform for monitoring and analyzing regionalized hate speech. It was built to assist government agencies, NGOs, research organizations and other philanthropic individuals and groups use hate speech as a predictor for regional violence. Language-based classification, or symbolization, is one of a handful of quantifiable steps toward genocide.

MH: It is obvious that words have strong power and impact on communication between people. Why you are focusing on hate speech instead of praise?

TQ: There’s thankfully very little risk to oppressed groups and populations targeted by praise. Just as crime statistics better inform law enforcement than the everyday actions of law-abiding citizens, and emergency room data is more useful for combating pandemics than studying healthy people walking past the hospital, hate speech is a more actionable source of data for us at the Sentinel Project in our efforts to mitigate the risk of genocide.

MH: How did you come with the idea of making Hatebrain?

TQ: We should first clarify what Hatebrain is: Hatebrain is an automated social media engine which we recently deployed as an enhancement of our Hatebase platform. The idea for creating Hatebrain was born of the need to parse large amounts of Twitter data without human moderation. Since turning on Hatebrain, we’ve accrued over 25,000 real-time geotagged hate speech sightings.

the concept of thinking photo from Shutterstock


the concept of thinking photo from Shutterstock

MH:  Why it is important to collect the information about location?

TQ: Location is critical for using hate speech as an early warning indicator of regionalized conflict. Without location, hate speech may be informative but it isn’t particularly helpful.

MH: Is there any tendency related to geography, time, or weather that people can tend to tweet something negative?

TQ: We haven’t attempted to correlate our data with weather or time of day, but we believe there’s a strong potential correlation with geography once you normalize for population, Internet connectivity and Twitter adoption. There’s a great opportunity here for individuals and organizations to identify further correlations by leveraging our open dataset at hatebase.org/connect_api.

MH: Is there any pattern you have found in hate speech, such as words mostly used?

TQ: A good place to look for this sort of information is in our published statistics: http://www.hatebase.org/popular (bear in mind, however, that this is currently still raw data rather than normalized data).

MH:  Why people blame on others, speak ill of someone, and often become very aggressive to say something negative?

TQ: There’s no shortage of theory on the persistence of human aggression, but it’s not implausible that aggressive behavior and externalization of subpopulations would have conferred an advantage in our evolutionary past. It’s difficult, however, to cleanly separate biological determinism from cultural, sociological or psychological factors: history is rife with examples of hate speech flourishing in environments of particular social and political instability.

MH: Like some videos and articles become viral, emotional moment and words can be infected from one person to another. Is it possible to arouse certain emotion by intentionally spreading words or speech?

TQ: The epidemiologic metaphor is apt: hate speech is most insidious when it relies upon a tacit acknowledgement of the acceptability of externalization. The disease spreads when the body’s immune system is compromised.

MH:  It seems that it would be difficult to use direct negative expression as people become more connected each other. Do you think the way to express something negative will be more indirect or ambiguous?

TQ: Unfortunately, the opposite is probably true — as our means of connecting with each other have diversified, so too have our opportunities for disparagement. If anything, social media emboldens hate speech through social feedback loops.There are very few biases which, no matter how absurd or invidious, won’t achieve validation from someone.

MH:  What would be the future project once you have achieved the objective of this project?

TQ: The Sentinel Project is currently working on our next software product, which is an open source rumour management platform called WikiRumours. Our goal is to mitigate escalation of conflict by intercepting misinformation and disinformation.


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