ADL takes fight against online hate to Silicon Valley

The Anti-Defamation League looks to the tech industry for resources as it works to squelch hate speech and harassment across the internet.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
Jon Skillings is an editorial director at CNET, where he's worked since 2000. A born browser of dictionaries, he honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing for tech publications -- including at PC Week and the IDG News Service -- back when the web was just getting under way, and even a little before. For CNET, he's written on topics from GPS, AI and 5G to James Bond, aircraft, astronauts, brass instruments and music streaming services.
Expertise AI, tech, language, grammar, writing, editing Credentials
  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
2 min read
Rally in Boston by Massachusetts Speaks Out Against Hate

An executive of the Anti-Defamation League addresses a Massachusetts Speaks Out Against Hate rally in Boston on November 21, 2016.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff, Boston Globe via Getty Images

To combat online hate, the Anti-Defamation League plans to build a command center in Silicon Valley.

The facility is intended to monitor and analyze hate speech and harassment across the internet, and to look for ways to mitigate it, providing support for the Jewish community and for other minority groups.

The ADL said Sunday that it has secured seed money for the center from the Omidyar Network. It did not give details on how much money is being invested, how many people will be hired or when the command center will be up and running.

"Now more than ever as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other hatreds have exploded online, it's critical that we are bringing best-in-class technology and resources to this fight," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, in a statement.

In the heart of the US tech industry, the ADL hopes to work with experts and entrepreneurs on technologies including artificial intelligence, big data and virtual reality.

The announcement comes amid heightened anxiety over attacks and harassment both online and in the physical world. Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been ramping up their responses to trolling and other nastiness after high-profile incidents in the last year and more.

In December, for instance, Twitter suspended (and eventually reinstated) the account of Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who advocates a separate white homeland, and also shuttered a handful of accounts that targeted black and Jewish people were closed. It has also permanently banned ultra-conservative journalist and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a central figure in an abuse campaign last year against "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones.

Last month, in a 5,700-word manifesto about building better communities, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he hopes that as early as this year AI can begin to help his company weed out things like hate speech, graphic violence and sexually explicit content.

The ADL said its Silicon Valley command center will "expose and stop" specific instance of online harassment and cyberbullying. It plans to amass data along with author reports, and will provide insights to government agencies as well as policy makers.

The founding director of the center will be Brittan Heller, who joined the ADL in September from the US Department of Justice, bringing experience in human rights and cyber issues.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Batteries Not Included: The CNET team shares experiences that remind us why tech stuff is cool.