“Best Practices” and Counterspeech Are Key to Combating Online Harassment

by: Oren Segal

March 07, 2016

On March 12, the Anti-Defamation League will play a key role at the first South by Southwest (SXSW) Online Harassment Summit.  In a series of panels at this day-long event, the Summit will focus attention on various manifestations of hate online, including everything from cyberbullying to the sale of offensive merchandise to hate speech on social media to online extremist recruitment and propaganda.  The overarching goal will be to identify the most effective strategies to counter all of these forms of cyberhate.


SXSW screenshot

ADL representatives at the Summit will all focus on the Anti-Defamation League’s recommended approach to respond to hate online.  That approach, simply stated, is that all of us – those in the industry who create the platforms and the tools, and those of us who use them – have a shared responsibility to prevent hate online whenever possible and to respond effectively when we encounter it.

There are two key components to this approach: industry best practices and effective counterspeech.  ADL’s experts will emphasize these two components on five separate panels at SXSW:


  • Industry Innovation and Social Responsibility – featuring ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt;
  • How Far Should We Go to Protect Hate Speech Online? – featuring ADL Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs Deborah Lauter;
  • Respond and Protect; Expert Advice Against Online Hate – featuring ADL Assistant Director for Cyberhate Response Jonathan Vick;
  • Profiling a Troll: Who They Are and Why They Do It – featuring the Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism Oren Segal; and
  • Tech and the United Front Against Online Hate – featuring ADL Deputy Director of Policy and Programs Steven Freeman.

ADL will also be promoting this message at other Summit events, including a Shabbat dinner and a reception co-hosted with Hack Harassment, a joint initiative launched by Intel, re/code, Vox Media and the Born This Way Foundation.



Some members of ADL's Cyberhate Working Group.

To address the industry’s responsibility, ADL has published a set of Best Practices intended to serve as a guidepost. In a nutshell, these Best Practices call for platforms to ensure that their relevant guidelines on hateful content are clear, that mechanisms to flag such content are user-friendly, that they will review and respond promptly to flagged content, and that they continue efforts to develop new technological tools that could help them identify a greater percentage of the problematic content by themselves.

To address the responsibility of users, working together with the industry, ADL has recommended that various counterspeech initiatives be given the highest priority.  These include, but are not limited to, educational programs, identifying and encouraging prominent voices to speak out, and creating start-ups and new ventures designed to assist victims in reclaiming a safe space online.

In advance of the Summit, ADL is pleased that, Quizlet and Whisper have agreed to join such major players as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo and YouTube in endorsing the Best Practices.   We will be asking others to follow their lead, at SXSW and afterwards.  Those who partner with us will send a   message that it is possible to confront cyberhate effectively, protecting the free flow of ideas that lies at the core of the Internet while at the same time ensuring that everyone can freely participate in this unique forum without fear and without risking their personal safety or well-being.