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Leveraging its national and global networks, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is forming a first-of-its-kind thematic network of experts, educators, practitioners, and ambassadors that will facilitate, promote, and strengthen collaboration to counter youth-oriented hate speech online. The network aims to develop, map, and evaluate effective counter strategies, and foster more resilient communities through partnerships with universities and other institutions in the United States and other countries.

Youth online face not only new opportunities for self-expression, creativity, and civic engagement, but also risks and challenges, including exposure to potentially harmful content, personal and community security, and risks to reputation. While some of these risks and challenges have recently gained significant attention by parents, educators, and policy-makers, others remain relatively unexamined. Among the areas of growing concern is the range of online behaviors encompassed by the term “youth-oriented hate speech.”

The initiative’s Leadership Team consists of Susan Benesch (Director of the Dangerous Speech Project and Berkman Center Faculty Associate), Sandra Cortesi (Director of the Youth and Media Project at the Berkman Center), Urs Gasser (Harvard Law School Professor of Practice and Berkman Center Executive Director), Sasha Havlicek (Founding Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue), and Farah Pandith (former first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities, US Department of State and former Senior Fellow and Institute of Politics Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government).

Building on the Berkman Center’s history of extensive work on the lives of youth online and the original Viral Peace project incubated at the U.S. State Department, Viral Peace focuses on building networks and mapping the knowledge in this crucial and productive area with the goal of connecting collaborators from a variety of backgrounds and providing a guide to the wide range of topics associated with online hate speech.

With the Berkman Center serving as the coordinator and research partner, the thematic network will aim to (1) deepen our understanding of youth-oriented hate speech online, (2) develop a set of curricula and learning modules that empower youth to appropriately respond to hate speech online (prevention and intervention mechanisms), (3) field-test these teaching and learning materials on the ground, and (4) to create a network of collaborators worldwide that will include universities, institutions, and communities in every state in the U.S. and in countries on each continent.

The Berkman team intends to host a series of conversations with key decision makers from the public and private sector–including representatives of social media platforms–to better understand their perspective on the phenomenon of youth-oriented hate speech and collaboratively explore topics such as the role of defaults, design choices, and platform affordances when it comes to addressing and combating these issues. The conversations are envisioned as both real and virtual engagements, which will deepen our understanding of the online hate speech phenomenon as it relates to youth and of the development, implementation, and evaluation of strategies to counter such speech. These conversations, both individually and as a whole, will be instrumental to forming the network.  Certain conversations may focus on narrower topics within a broader set of hate speech phenomena that concern youth.