Facebook prohibits and removes hate speech, which it defines as ‘content that directly attacks people based on their: race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or gender identity, or serious disabilities or diseases’. Nonetheless, sometimes people post disagreeable or disturbing content that does not violate Facebook’s policies. This paper explores the potential of community-driven counter-speech to play a critical role in challenging and diminishing these type of posts on social media.

Counter-speech is a common, crowd-sourced response to extremism or hateful content. It has some clear advantages: it is faster, more flexible and responsive, capable of dealing with extremism from anywhere and in any language and retains the principle of free and open public spaces for debate. However, the forms counter-speech takes are as varied as the extremism they argue against. It is also likely that it is not always as effective as it could be; and some types of counter-speech could potentially even be counter-productive.

Because of its strong belief in the power of counter-speech and the growing interest in a more rigorous and evidence-led approach to understand it better, Facebook asked Demos to undertake a series of research reports, examining the extent to which different types of counter-speech are produced and shared on Facebook. This short interim report sets out the summary findings of Phase I, which looked at how speech which challenges right-wing populist pages across Europe, is produced and shared. Further reports in this series examine speech and content that challenges extreme Islamist ideology, in the UK and beyond.

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