University think-tank to tackle online prejudice


Beating the rise of intolerance and prejudice online with competition for $100 million award

A newly-founded think-tank at the University of St Andrews is pitching for a $100 million award to take on the rise of intolerance and prejudice online.

The think-tank, called the Third Generation Project, is part of a coalition of six organisations bidding for the MacArthur Foundation’s flagship ‘100&Change’ programme. The competition, which will announce the semi-finalists in December, will award the sum ‘to a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places, or the planet’.

The collective human rights think-tank, based in the University’s School of International Relations, has worked alongside Pact International, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Search for Common Ground and Show of Force on the bid.

The coalition’s proposal, i_Tolerant, is a multifaceted approach to battling the rise of online hate. It aims to create a global movement of citizens with ‘community based compassion’, who are trained to combat prejudice both in person and virtually.

Professor of International Relations at St Andrews, Ali Watson, is the executive director and co-founder of the Third Generation Project (TGP). She said: “As a social justice-oriented think-tank, joining this consortium and proposal fell perfectly within our remit to foster more discussions about the rights we have as communities and not just as individuals.

“Now more than ever, particularly in the UK and the US, the virtual world cannot be ignored as an alternative space where human rights are violated. In this case, we are seeing that the internet holds little respect for human rights and often fosters intolerance for the right of marginalised groups to even exist.”

According to former Anti-Defamation League director, Abraham Foxman, in the years since the advent of social media such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, as well as YouTube and Wikipedia, there has been, “a sudden and rapidly increasing wave of bigotry-spewing videos, hate-oriented affinity groups, racist online commentary, and images encouraging violence against the helpless and minorities”.

With Facebook and Google acting as advisory partners, i_Tolerant would pilot, evaluate and refine (for scale up and replication,) innovative initiatives to combat such intolerance. As Michelle Risinger, Innovation Lead at Pact International, said: “With this bid we decided to flip our traditional business practice on its head. Instead of starting with what we know we do well – what we aim to achieve within an existing scope of work – we threw everything out the window and created the space for ourselves to think outside the box and create transformational change.”

If successful in the bid, the Third Generation Project, along with the Economist Intelligence Unit, would be funded for the research element of the bid.

The proposal seeks to build contacts with existing groups in four strategic countries utilising face to face contact, online exchanges, games and social media to mobilise those already known to combat prejudice online.

Bennett Collins, policy director and co-founder at TGP, explained: “Something that was quintessential for us to establish was that there are already community-based solutions out there to countering intolerance both in the personal and virtual worlds. We see that our responsibility then, as a research partner in this proposal, is to not invent something new but identify what is already working.”


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