Saturday

25th Nov 2017

Focus

Barcelona university invents tool for measuring hate speech

  • The Spanish academics say their monitoring tool could be used in the European Parliament too (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

A team of academics in Catalonia have come up with a monitoring tool for xenophobic speech, something they say could be used at EU level too.

Ricard Zapata-Barrero, professor of political and social sciences at Barcelona's Universitat de Pompeu Fabre, and his colleague Gema Rubio Carbonero thought up the tool as a way for political parties to assess their own speeches and for civil society to scrutinise politicians.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Xenophobia is a construct," says Zapata.

He explains that political parties seek to divert public attention from the economic crisis by raising emotions and negative attitudes towards issues such as immigrants and the European Union.

Populist discourse in politics affects both at the societal level, by legitimising racist behaviour, and at the institutional level by legitimising structural racism.

Zapata likens the monitoring tool to a discriminatory "speed radar" that can offer proof of when language has passed the limit of what is tolerated in society.

The study used Catalonia as a test case. The researchers analysed six political parties, their electoral programmes, interviews and plenary sessions in the parliament from 2007 to 2012.

The three main findings were that most of the language used by political parties in Catalonia does not show xenophobic tendencies and that where there were incidences of it, they were linked to right-wing ideology.

It also showed that parties are more likely to use discriminatory speech when in opposition rather than in government.

With populist and anti-immigrant parties set to make strong gains in the May European elections, Zapata thinks the monitoring tool could be used in the European Parliament.

"I think it would be very good if we would have the chance to collect all the speeches on immigration that there are in the European Parliament and make the political parties feel watched and analysed."

He warned of the dangers of populist speech becoming a regular feature in political discourse.

"Often it is political parties that shape how public opinion perceives immigration. What is worrying is not so much that there are political parties that are clearly xenophobic . . . [but] that the mainstream political parties are absorbing this tendency."

Zapata notes that instead of countering the language of extremism, mainstream parties often adopt or are indifferent to it; in his opinion a "bad strategy".

He gave the example of France where it became evident in 2002 that the anti-immigrant National Front was a strong political force. Mainstream parties, especially on the right, began to adopt the same language.

"This contagious effect is worrying and should be quickly limited," he says.

Just as society should not tolerate political speeches that are discriminatory to gay people or the role of women then it should not tolerate anti-immigrant speeches, he continues.

He hopes that his speech monitor can also help establish some ethics around the political discourse on immigration.

"There is a clear correlation between xenophobic discourse and anti-European Union speeches. This is therefore also a European problem," Zapata concludes.

Classifying speeches

The monitoring instrument has three different elements for identifying potentially problematic speeches.

If all three indicators come into play the speech is classified as anti-immigrant.

The first factor to be analysed is target audience. A speech referring explicitly and only to citizens and excluding immigrants trips the first indicator.

A speech framing the relationship between citizens and immigrants in terms of conflict and tension, with citizens being the 'positive' and immigrants being the 'negative', trips the second indicator.

The third factor concerns linguistic parametres. If generalisations, exaggerations, negative metaphors and/or dehumanising wording is used against a particular part of the population, this indicator kicks in.

"We classify a speech as xenophobic when these three elements are all present," says Zapata.

The team behind the report are looking into continuing their monitoring in Catalonia. Meanwhile Zapata would like to apply the method to the new European Parliament, which will begin its work in autumn.

The study can soon be found on the Interdiscilinary Research Group on Immigration (GRITIM) website.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Germany remains 'active' in EU
  2. Work with Israel, Egypt on gas exploration, says Commission
  3. Only seven EU states have 'advanced' stage climate plans
  4. EU dashes integration hopes of eastern countries
  5. EU approves joint Irish electricity scheme
  6. German president to launch 'Grand Coalition' talks
  7. Irish opposition 'threatens national interest', says minister
  8. SPD drops opposition to grand coalition in Germany

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  9. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  10. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  11. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  12. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition