Together with the RAND Corporation (Santa Monica, LA) and Rand Europe (Cambridge, UK) HateLab has been awarded a research grant by the National Institute of Justice, part of the US Department of Justice, for the project ‘Online Hate Speech as a Motivator for Hate Crime’. Over half of the funds are dedicated to supporting HateLab’s involvement in the $885,820 three year study. The project will investigate the utility of Twitter data for understanding what types, for whom, and where online hate speech acts a ‘signature’ of offline hate crime. Drawing extensively on previous social media research by Williams & Burnap (2016), Burnap and Williams (2016) and Williams et al. (2016) the study will develop a statistical model that links anonymous aggregate online hate speech and offline hate crime, using tweets and reported hate crimes in Los Angeles County as a test case.

Professor Matt Williams, Director of HateLab said “Developing a better understanding of the patterning of hateful sentiments online could help identify aggregate hate crime trends offline. The ability to classify locations at greater risk could allow us to identify emerging issues and take a proactive approach to hate crime. The insights provided by our work will help US localities to design policies to address specific hate crime issues unique to their jurisdiction and allow agencies to tailor their services to the needs of victims, especially if those victims are members of an emerging category of hate crime targets.”

Research conducted at HateLab has shown that Twitter data can be used to identify hot spots—states or cities—of hate sentiment where hate crime victims, such as recent immigrants fearful of deportation, may be unlikely to make official reports of hate crime. Analysing open source communications may also be useful in areas where hate crimes are targeting an emerging category of victim but too few official reports have been made to allow the identification of the emerging trends.

Professor Pete Burnap, computational lead on the project, said “This is the first study in the United States to use social media data in statistical models of hate crime.  New analytic approaches and the ability to process very large datasets have increased the accuracy of statistical models over traditional crime analysis methods and this project will evaluate if we can leverage these new data and techniques to improve safety in certain locations.”