Online Harms Observatory

Bridging the gap: robustness meets relevance

Academic research is highly valued because of its quality, integrity and independence. Research is driven by addressing problems, finding new information and creating the frameworks, theories and concepts that ground our understanding of an issue.

But it is often slow. Academic publishing cycles can be years-long, limiting the relevance of research. Academics are also often driven by the need to create tools, insights and models that push the boundaries of what is possible. They often do not translate into immediately useful tools, requiring years of further development.

With the Online Harms Observatory, we aim to bridge this gap. We will bring the robustness of academic research with the speed of industry, offering stakeholders the information that they need, when they need it. 

What is the Online Harms Observatory?

The Online Harms Observatory is a new platform which will provide real-time insight into the scope, prevalence and dynamics of harmful online content. It will be powered by a mix of large-scale data analysis, cutting-edge AI and survey data.

This exciting new resource will leverage our innovative research to help policymakers, regulators, security services and other stakeholders better understand the landscape of online harms. It will focus on online hate, personal abuse, extremism and misinformation.

Why do we need an Online Harms Observatory?

Online spaces are increasingly vulnerable to hazardous online activity. Misinformation risks exacerbating the effects of COVID-19 through anti-vaxx movements; marginalised, subordinated and otherwise vulnerable groups are increasingly being harassed; a nd conspiracy theorists are being given oxygen to spread divisive and harmful messages.

To effectively challenge and counter the harmful impact of toxic content, whilst still ensuring fundamental rights like freedom of expression remain protected, we need to understand it. This is not an easy task. In one of our previous reports we described online hate as a “wicked problem”, and the same can be said of nearly all online harms.

The Observatory will house the methodologies, data, analytical tools and social insights needed to create a step change in intelligence gathering for harmful online content. This is increasingly important as regulatory, legal and civic pressure to tackle online hazards accelerates.

Funding and collaboration

We are pleased to announce that the Observatory has been funded by both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the EPSRC via The Alan Turing Institute. We are actively looking for partners to contribute to, use and fund the Observatory.