What We Do

The Dangerous Speech Project was founded in 2010 to study speech (any form of human expression) that inspires violence between groups of people – and to find ways to mitigate this while protecting freedom of expression. We work primarily in four areas:

  1. Tracking and studying dangerous speech in many countries
  2. Researching effective responses to dangerous speech and other forms of harmful expression
  3. Advising social media and other tech companies on their policies, and encouraging them to engage in transparent research
  4. Teaching dangerous speech ideas to a variety of people who use them to study and counter dangerous speech

In each of these areas, we work closely with a diverse group of partners to maximize the quality and impact of our efforts, and share our work by writing articles, reports, blog posts, and op-eds and giving frequent talks.

Tracking and studying dangerous speech

We gather and analyze historical and current examples of dangerous speech from around the world, to better understand the link between speech and violence. Drawing on this research, we have written a detailed practical guide for identifying and countering dangerous speech, online and offline. Our FAQ provides quick insights as well.

We have commissioned detailed case studies of dangerous speech from researchers in many countries, since such analysis is best done by people who are fluent in the relevant languages and cultures. We call this the Global Research Initiative (GRI), and each year we recruit a cohort of new GRI fellows, and pay them a stipend. We also award a small annual fellowship grant to PhD students whose dissertation work is relevant to dangerous speech.

Researching effective responses to harmful expression

To diminish the effects of dangerous speech and other forms of harmful expression, we study the wide variety of creative methods people and civil society organizations have developed to respond to such speech in constructive ways, including counterspeech. We have brought many of these pathbreakers together for the first time, both privately and publicly, which has both informed our research and .

As part of our efforts to understand how best to respond to dangerous speech, Dr. Cathy Buerger, the DSP’s research director, has conducted an ethnographic study of #jagärhär, a group of thousands of people who respond collectively to hatred and dangerous speech online. And in 2021 we will write a book on how to counterspeak – how to respond to hatred and dangerous speech – most effectively, based on our extensive research.

Advising and challenging tech companies

As experts on how speech leads to violence, we use our research to advise the tech industry on how to anticipate, minimize, and respond to harmful discourse in ways that prevent violence while also protecting freedom of expression.

We advise several tech companies on their content policies, lending our research to answer questions on what to do about hate speech, violence against women, government troll armies, content regulation during elections, and speech in countries such as Myanmar, India, or the Philippines.

We firmly believe that companies should collaborate externally to research methods of reducing harmful behavior on their platforms – and transparently publish the findings. To that end, DSP director Susan Benesch assembled a research team that made a prototype for this with an experiment to diminish abuse and harassment on Twitter. Although Twitter failed to conduct the experiment (despite signing a contract for it), we continue to advocate strongly for robust, ethical, privacy-protecting, transparent research on how to diminish harm online.

As advocates we work in coalition as much as possible, and we are proud to be part of the Change the Terms Coalition, the Christchurch Call Advisory Network, the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network, and the Global Network Initiative.

Teaching dangerous speech ideas

As much as we can, we deliver our ideas to people who can use them to study dangerous speech and counter it. In addition to making our publications widely accessible, we also conduct trainings and workshops for a variety of groups including activists, educators, lawyers, researchers, students, and tech company staff. As a result of these and other efforts, our work has been used to study and/or counter dangerous speech in countries as varied as Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Hungary, Kenya, Pakistan, and the United States.