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VR Tackling Online Hate Speech

Mike Riversdale, Guest Post. 27 January 2020, 7:51 am
VR Tackling Online Hate Speech

Everyone thinks of games when the letters "VR" are bandied around and with Wellington-based company Beyond giving people such an incredibly fun experience in their VR product is it any wonder.

 

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However VR is just a tool, a tech tool that can be used to bring any experience we wouldn't normally have a hope in being a part of. With that in mind I popped along to the Department of Internal Affairs' Service Innovation Lab late in 2019 at the kind invite of Dr Hazel Bradshaw, to see how she and her tiny team have taken the world of VR and used it for the good of us all.

Some background - within government policy is created by many of the fine folks in the New Zealand civil service. A lot of these policy people, generally known as Policy Analysts (senior, junior, area focused, there are many flavours) generate policies for people that are not of their ilk. Of course they mostly have tried, tested, and traditional ways of trying to expand their horizons, limit the scope of bias, and even step into the shoes of those that, unlike themselves, will be affected by the very policies they write. There are consultation processes, there are trials, there are even proof of concepts, perhaps even done in an agile way to learn and evolve.

At the end of the day though, the worlds within which the intended recipients of the policies are not the same as those that create them.

 

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Hazel recognised this and, using her 'futures thinking' pondered how to bring the worlds closer together, particularly at the inception stage of policy creation when the deep, broad assumptions are being generated. At this stage that the, "So what is it were trying to tackle?" is being asked and the 'made up' answers can set the general course for everything that follows.

Take social media for instance and particularly the use of social media (by which I mean the big three platforms) to propagate racism, sexism, and generally f-ed up behaviour that we wouldn't tolerate in our own living rooms. This world can be understood at a surface level, but how these behaviours are actually born and spread is not one that you can glean from everyday experiences and certainly not from the overly shallow main stream media (MSM) reporting of such events.

Taking hate speech, and in particular how an innocent Twitter reply can lead to a pile-on of unknown / untraceable racists from around the world is something that many (but unfortunately by no means all) Policy Analysts in government have no experience of.

Using a VR setup Hazel allows you to step into the world of not only the recipient of such an incident, but to trace it back from the original tweet to the instigator and even beyond.

It is powerful to see the birth, in a room you're standing in, of a hate meme and then to be alongside, and sometimes the actual, recipient of the overwhelming consequences of it. You are left with no doubt the cause and effect, and not at a "I read an international report that says ..." level but at a deep guttural level that truly means you can sit back and ask bigger, harder questions as to how the government can somehow mitigate this behaviour. 

And that's the point, you get it, in your mind AND your heart. You feel the pain, but you also experience, and are a part of, how it starts. It takes you out of the "Wellington bubble" and places you in their worlds.

Whilst it is a short, scripted (with interaction) VR experience I could immediately see the massive value, everyone that is attempting to tackle the current insidious social media landscape should want to experience this, and if not questions as to why not should be asked.

Politicians of all flavours should get in. If there's any groups of people that, in an election year, should understand the consequences of their tweets, postings, messages it is these.

So how do those that matter get to place the goggles on, feed the ducks to get orientated, and send that first innocent tweet? Sadly the DIA Service Innovation Lab, whilst still active, is highly likely (imho, definitely) going to be shut down which means we have both lost the walk-in but much more besides (a post for another time).

 

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Dr Hazel Bradshaw, alongside many of the work done over the to few years of the Lab, have open sourced the whole experience. Yes, you can go download it and use it in the comfort of your own government department, office, or even at home. Not only are all the assets open sourced they come with full instructions AND the ability (with how) to customise allowing you to tailor the experience to your particular 'world'.''

I'd like to thank Dr Hazel Bradshw, her tiny team, the wider Service Innovation Lab both past and present, for everything they have achieved. If this or future Governments don't/can't build upon both their work and approach, but more importantly their ethos I am deeply saddened and see a New Zealand that loses a key capability in how all of government provides services to you, me, and everyone else in Aotearoa.

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Download the experience

GitHub: VR-Online-social-norms

Further info

Exploring how government can use virtual reality for public good

Service Innovation Lab: VR Tools - Exploring Online Social Norms

YouTube: Online Social Norms VR

New Zealand government lab creates VR tool to analyse hate speech

VR: The challenge of creating a story arc in immersive experiences

 

Mike Riversdale is a well-known tech blogger uses his many years of IT experience to bridge the gaps between technology builders and users by explaining stuff, connecting people and getting things done. Reposted with kind permission.

 


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