Finnish government to use AI to track online hate speech

By Harry Menear
Utopia Analytics will use AI to uncover hate speech in online channels as part of the Finnish government’s Facts Against Hate program...

The increased amount of time that people spend online has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A report by the Wall Street Journal found that the average amount of time a US adult spent using the internet rose this year from 12 hours and 24 minutes a day to more than 16 hours

While online connectivity has enabled remote work and much-needed social contact during global lockdowns, research indicates that the trend is also leading to internet users - particularly children - being exposed to increased volumes of hate speech. Another report by L1ght - an AI startup based in Israel - found that, after analysing millions of websites, chat rooms and gaming platforms, it recorded a 900% increase in hate speech directed towards the Chinese and a 40% rise in online toxicity among teens and children since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

In the US, violent hate crimes - spurred on, some say, by the increasing acceptance of far right ideologies embraced by the Trump administration - reached a 16 year high in 2018. In Europe, the situation is much the same, as hate speech targeting immigrant and refugee populations rose steadily over the past few years. 

Governments in Europe have taken steps to tackle the issue, with German police leading a wider Europol raid at the beginning of November, which resulted in the arrest of 96 suspects across the country. Despite measures like this, L1ght’s report noted a 200% growth in traffic to sites identified as hosting and.or encouraging hateful speech. 

“With people staying home, a rise in Internet traffic is bound to appear. We all heard reports saying that Internet backbones are seeing major traffic. What people do not realize is that there is also a substantial rise in Internet traffic to sites promoting hate, with specific posts against people of asian descent,” notes the report. 

Finland hires Utopia Analytics to track hate speech

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be one of the most powerful weapons in the war against hate speech. This week, the Finnish Government announced the launch of a new project with Finnish AI company Utopia Analytics

The project will see Utopia Analytics deploy its cutting edge AI technology to track and monitor hate speech, as part of an information gathering service for the government. 

“Working in cooperation with Ministry of Justice experts, a university researcher will define what is to be considered hate speech messaging. Utopia will train Utopia AI to find content similar to this definition online,” wrote the company in a statement. 

Utopia’s CEO Mari-Sanna Paukkeri commented that, “For years now, many operators in Finland and worldwide have used Utopia’s technology in detecting and removing inappropriate content from their online services. In this project we dive deep into hate speech in particular. It’s very interesting to compare the appearance of hate speech on different platforms.”

The monitoring campaign will focus on popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as discussion forums, the news comments on major news sites, blog posts and blog post comments. A third party is providing the data, which will then be used to create a wider model of hate speech as it exists online. 

The Finnish government is planning on publishing the results of the study in a report released early next year. The next step, according to Utopia Analytics, will then be to put the information into action to create a meaningful course of action to combat hate speech. 


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