Confronting Hate Speech Online

March 9th, 2021

CSIRO's David Douglas joins Something Digital's Night Nomads' engaging panel of speakers to discuss confronting hate speech online.

In March 2021, David Douglas, CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow (Responsible Innovation in Robotics and AI) was invited to join an engaging panel of speakers as part of Something Digital’s Night Nomads series. The topic of the panel was eliminating hate speech online.


The Night Nomads series promotes bold, often uncomfortable conversations about digital technology and its effects on our daily lives. The first of three events this year, based around confronting online hate speech, began with a pre-recorded message by Jillian York (Director for International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation in Berlin) about how the technology alone cannot address the problem and that civil society needs to have a say about how companies and governments respond to it.

The session was moderated by Cat Matson (Manager of Economic and Community Development at Ipswich City Council) and the expert panel featured:

  • Katharine Gelber – Head of the School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland
  • Jesse Hughes – New media artist and technologist
  • Scott McDougall – Commissioner, Queensland Human Rights Commission, and
  • David Douglas – CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow, Responsible Innovation in Robotics and AI.

The panel engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that considered the responsibilities of online services, the legal and social responses to online hate speech, and how younger generations of online users deal with hate speech on social media.

An important point that emerged early in the discussion was being clear about what hate speech is. Katharine Gelber described it as “speech intended to target and cause harm to marginalised and vulnerable groups in society.”

Hate speech shouldn’t get in the way of respectful discussions of different views online. “Online discussions should be about informing and persuading others rather than silencing and dominating them,” David said.

Another recurring point in the discussion was recognising that hate speech online is a social problem rather than a technological one, and that technology alone cannot solve it. The panel agreed that ignoring or blocking hate speech doesn’t address the attitudes and social problems that encourage it.

It was observed that governments and civil society organisations should play a role in deciding how technology companies address hate speech on their platforms. The panellists emphasised that new technology is difficult but it was not something that should be left to technology companies, which may not anticipate some of the problems their platforms may cause.

To conclude, the panellists were asked for their view of what an online world without hate speech would look like. David suggested that while getting there would be difficult, controlling hate speech online may allow the early visions of the Internet as a medium for diverse discussion without prejudice to be realised.

“If you could gain control of the hate speech, maybe the original vision would re-emerge. The world has been made by people, and we can choose to make it differently. We can influence technology to benefit us rather than harm us,” he said.

Further information about the Night Nomads: Eliminating Hate Speech Online can be found at:

CSIRO is a collaborative partner of the Something Digital Festival 2021.