Technology’s capacity for harm

The IEEE‘s flagship publication, Spectrum Magazine, has noted the work of the Online Hate Prevention Institute in an article in its March issue which looks at the use of technology by the Nazis and lessons for today.

The article by Allison Marsh is titled “Inside the Third Reich’s Radio“. It looks in-depth at how the Nazis used radio as a path to power and the spread of their ideology of hate. Marsh then draws a parallel to today and social media.

She notes, “In recent years, many people have compared the Nazis’ manipulation of radio to mobilize hate with the use of the Internet and social media to radicalize fringe groups and disseminate false information. Since 2008, social media expert Andre Oboler has been documenting and analyzing online hate and advising groups on how to combat it. A computer scientist by training, he founded the Online Hate Prevention Institute [OHPI] in 2012 to investigate cyber-racism, violent extremism, misogyny, trolling, and griefing (sabotage within online games and other virtual platforms). In a November 2020 address to the United Nations’ Forum on Minority Issues, he noted that hate is often based on ignorance, fed by fake news, misinformation, and disinformation—tactics straight out of Goebbels’s playbook.”

The article in Spectrum is significant. As the leading international organisation for engineers and technology professionals, IEEE has about 400,000 members globally. They are professionals in computer science, all forms of engineering and related disciplines as well as students studying in these fields. They are the current and future workforce of technology companies large and small. All of them receive Spectrum as part of their membership. The focus on this topic, and the interest from members, is a sign of a shifting global environment.

Reflecting on the article OHPI’s CEO, Dr Oboler, commented, “In 2021 there are increasingly clear expectations from the profession, government and the community for real corporate responsibility in the technology space. By the end of this year, I believe the online environment will be a very different space. We won’t have solved all the problems, but there will be a much clearer divide between the technology platforms that meet societal expectations of good corporate citizenship / ethical behaviour and those that do not Government around the world will increasingly be looking to regulate and penalise platforms that do not bring themselves up to basic standard on their own”.

In addition to his role with the Online Hate Prevention Institute, Dr Oboler serves as a Vice President of the IEEE Computer Society, the part of the IEEE focused on Computing and one of the largest sub-groups within the organisation.