Press Release (EN)

Press Release (EN)

 Cross-border EU initiative to help counter online hate speech


Antwerp, Belgium, May 19, 2020

Amidst the “tsunami” of online hate speech that has come to light during the COVID-19 pandemic, the, the United Nations is calling for “an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.”

Online hate speech has seen a disturbing growth in recent years, particularly in response to the mass refugee migration to Europe, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, social media networks often function as echo chambers, amplifying hate and facilitating the expression of radical views in the absence of face-to-face interaction. As a consequence, hateful actors have been able to infiltrate various types of public discourse online. For example, in Germany there has been a rise in extremist propaganda on social media, openly inciting violence towards refugees and “their virus.” Europol has observed that violent extremism is expanding, “partly fuelled by fears of a perceived Islamization of society and [partly by] anxiety over migration.”

Detect Then Act ( is creating a coalition of universities, tech companies, NGOs and citizens in Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands that will work together to find answers to stop the online hate speech that is dividing our societies. The project will be supervised by a board of security, legal and ethics experts and is supported by the European Commission’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme.

One innovative aspect of the project is that it will combine human knowledge with artificial intelligence, using AI tools to monitor online hate speech which can be used to inform media campaigns. These campaigns will focus on encouraging bystanders to stand up, fostering citizens to be better equipped to challenge the misinformation, conflict, bullying, racism and sexism prevalent on social media networks. 

With the help of artificial intelligence technology tools, “upstanders” can then work to deflate toxic discussions, using these campaigns. The project will also mobilize participants to report illegal cases of extremism and radicalisation, in accordance with the EU’s regulations in collaboration with social media tech companies.

Detect Then Act (DTCT): “Taking Direct Action against Online Hate Speech by Turning Bystanders into Upstanders”

Belgian tech company Textgain and the University of Hildesheim in Germany are currently developing new language technology to identify violent and illegal content in different European regions, while the CSO Media Diversity Institute Global, will be training participants to create memes and campaigns, and social media users to use them to use positive messaging that stands up to online hatred. These strategies will be based on research from the University of Antwerp and Dutch research and the consultancy company EMMA Karel de Grote University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Belgium and aims to show what ordinary citizens can do to make our social media networks a better, and less hateful place.

The project started in September 2019 and will run until September 2021. 

For details about the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme (REC), see the Horizon 2020 website.