Meet the woman who is building a chatbot to encourage civil conversation online
According to a study, 73% of social network users have experienced abuse, threats or hate speech online.
Italian social tech entrepreneur and former Startups for News finalist Selene Biffi has most recently been working on building a chatbot platform called LOUDEMY, whose principal aim is to create sensitive and positive dialogue with those who are spouting hate or spreading misinformation on social media.
While social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook try to get rid of as much offensive content on their feeds as possible, Biffi says that ‘Hate speech lies in a complex nexus with freedom of expression and individuals’, making her question the usefulness of constantly removing content. She believes that conversation is more effective than censorship, particularly when offensive material has been fuelled by misinformation.
Rather than making hate speech disappear, LOUDEMY wants to challenge it and more ambitiously, even change people’s minds.
According to Biffi, chatbots have been used mostly for mundane tasks such as ordering pizza or booking a hotel, until now. She emphasises that LOUDEMY is not only innovative in its approach to fighting hate speech online, but she reckons it is also changing the chatbot landscape: the function and impact of bots is being completely redefined through her platform.
How does LOUDEMY work?
- LOUDEMY works by scanning the web. It is triggered whenever it detects hate-filled language, fake news, and intolerance in online discussions. LOUDEMY then analyses the mood of conversations and automatically generates comments, which aim to provide alternative viewpoints. The content of the chatbot’s comments are reports and data taken from reputable newsrooms, public sources — such as impartial think tanks, and legal resources — such as international treaties or national laws. The language is always positive or neutral.
- The bot can post up to three alternative responses in any given conversation, and the user can manually select which responses they want to keep or delete.
What does the user have to do?
- LOUDEMY is very easy to use: the platform lets the user choose which topics they’d like to see challenged, select the sources they want the chatbot to connect to, and then link LOUDEMY to their social media accounts. The algorithm does the rest.
- The platform currently provides a service for two types of users: individuals and organisations. The latter have to pay a subscription fee, but have access to a larger amount of sources, and have the option of using internal data and reports as sources.
Can LOUDEMY fulfil its promise of neutralising hate speech?
The bot is still in beta version, but according to Biffi it has performed well in natural conversations so far.
The LOUDEMY team tested a bot in the youtube comments section, where a person was sharing their extreme point of view on Islam and terrorism. The bot in question “Antonio Rossi” patiently engaged in positive dialogue using quotations from the Quran to provide an alternative viewpoint. After just two exchanges with the bot, the person had changed their mind.
This shows that the bot also has potential in fact checking and monitoring comment sections on digital news outlets and social media.
What still needs to be done?
- Adding more languages. LOUDEMY currently only works in English and Italian. Spanish and French will be released soon.
- Contextualising satire and quotations. The team is working to train the bot to be able to differentiate between ironic and sincere content to avoid any mishaps and useless dialogue.
- Adding more information sources. the list of sources from which the bot can pull information is constantly being revised to include as many news sources as possible.
- Persuading people that it works. Biffi and her team are expecting some initial diffidence or skepticism towards their chatbots, seeing as they are entering completely new territory.
- Finding investors and partners. The LOUDEMY team is still looking for support to reach important milestones in the next month.
Try it for yourself here!
Find out more about entrepreneur Selene Biffi
Biffi launched Youth Action for Change in 2005 with just €150 and a lot of enthusiasm at her disposal. YAC is a peer-to-peer platform, which provides free online courses to young people who want to improve their opportunities. It has since grown to serve young people in over 130 countries.
She previously lived in Afghanistan, from where she was evacuated due to an attack that killed her UN colleagues. She later returned to Kabul to set up a school that empowers young people to leverage storytelling to create employment and development locally.
She currently lives in Somalia where she is working to launch an incubator for social entrepreneurs on behalf of the UN.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, we wrote that when we tried the bot the results were inconclusive: this was because we hadn’t configured the bot properly.
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