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Twitter and the University of Otago are working together on a new research study to show how online discussions can promote tolerance, after the Christchurch mosque attacks.
Twitter this week announced a partnership with the University of Otago’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in the New Zealand-first study.
The project will use Twitter data to study the ways online conversations can be used to promote tolerance and inclusion instead of division and exclusion.
Emeritus Prof Kevin Clements said much attention after the Christchurch attacks had rightly focused on negative aspects of social media, including the livestreaming of the attacks.
However, Prof Clements, who is the former foundation director of the university centre, said that much of the messaging on Twitter after the attacks had reflected a more positive approach, including community solidarity.
The fact that Twitter had approached the Otago centre last December to support the idea of a study of Twitter use by the centre reflected positively on the centre and the university.
Also, the project showed the way Twitter was working with governments, and other organisations "to ensure that its service is not abused by those promoting polarisation, hate language, and violence", he said.
The study initiative was conceived in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks on March 15 last year.
By focusing on Twitter data from the six months before the attacks, during the event, and from six months after the tragedy, centre researchers would try to counter "digitally amplified polarisation".
Preliminary research already showed "some encouraging findings".
By using data generated from tens of thousands of public Tweets linked to the violence, lead researcher Sanjana Hattotuwa, of the centre, discovered a huge international outpouring of support for victims, solidarity with the citizens of New Zealand, and an emphasis on "democracy, decency and dignity", he said.
He was surprised by the volume of Tweets with just five hashtags — #christchurchmosqueshooting,
These had generated about 85,000 Tweets in the 24 hours immediately after the attack.
In Urdu and Hindi, from Pakistan to India, as well as the New Zealand Prime Minister’s own responses on Twitter in English, the most viral Tweets at the time had condemned the massacre, Mr Hattotuwa said.