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“Now, if you want me to get out of the world, you had better get the women votin’ soon. I shan’t go till I can do that.”

Sojourner Truth

2024 will be the year when the most people ever have voted in an election. An estimated 49% of the world population, including from at least 64 nations, including 4 large democratic governmental entities, will hold elections this year: Indonesia, India, the European Union, and the United States of America. It can be unanimously agreed that the electoral outcome of these elections will shape the course of geopolitics for the rest of this decade, with 2024 being remembered as the year with the potential to fundamentally pivot the course of democracy across the globe.

As the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, the media has solely focused on the rise of state actors engaging in illicit tactics to intervene in the domestic affairs of another nation to bring about discontent and develop further destabilization, such as Russian state interference in recent Dutch and US Electoral Campaigns through hackers from Russia & Belarus affiliated with their respective governments and based hackers using Facebook to spread fake news, a common term used thanks to Donald Trump.

The media in itself has often failed to contextualize and remove hateful and divisive content by influential individuals on social media, as well as being a carrier of misinformation that can easily be shared and edited to a mass audience of billions. However, what is often overlooked is the process of how large-scale occurrences of hate speech occur has very sinister origins. The average social media platform user only sees a hateful post or comment.

Although far-fetched, this process can be compared to baking a cake. At a cafe, the consumer only visibly sees the final product – which is a finished cake. However, to bake a cake, multiple different processes need to occur. Firstly, to bake a cake, you need several different ingredients: usually flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and milk. Then happens the process of mixing these ingredients and working on mixing these ingredients all together until a batter is formed. Then, the recipe requires a warm oven to bake the cake until it has cooled. Only after all the ingredients have been mixed in an environment that allows this to occur, finally the cake ready for the consumer to enjoy.

However, what they don’t see is how this post or comment has originated. 

An almost identical procedure also occurs with the process of detective detecting subversive activity activities are similar; the individual can only at large, we only feel and see the final product impact, which in this example is the impact of a hate speech or divisive rhetoric. 

Creating a conspiracy theory or a hate speech message on social media involves considering both the process of creating the message’s origin and the conspiracy theories behind the message such assertions as well as the frequency of the message and including the actors behind the different messages such as a subversive activity. 

While many commentators recognize the power of social media as a carrier medium of destabilization campaigns, there needs to be more focus on highlighting key individuals behind creating a mass movement and following different conspiracy theories. 

Justice for Prosperity, a not-for-profit NGO, has identified a significant oversight in the current fight against the spread of hate, accompanying a wave of polarisation that only assists in the erosion of democratic actors and values. For trust in democracy to recover, there is a dire need to uncover a growing trend of subversion within Western Democracies of undermining key figures and institutions.

This leads to the partnership with the SIDN Fonds, which helps finance projects focusing on the implications of the internet upon wider society, explicitly focusing on countering disinformation. This campaign focuses on improving education to stem disinformation, increasing research awareness against disinformation, and creating better tools for journalists and researchers. 

Hence, the birth of the WhoDis Project, which, through the use of AI technology through National Language Processing, allows for the creation of an interactive visualisation tool that, through previous examples, can be able to track the source of specific conspiracy theories, as well as uncover strategic narratives that disguise negative, bigoted, misogynist, or extremist messaging, by positioning them as positive.

The current positioning of positive false narratives on the internet cannot be picked up by existing platforms that cannot distinguish the inferred meaning from what is calculated and designed to be positive narratives. This is vital, as strategic narratives disguise negative, bigoted, misogynist, or extremist messaging by positioning them as positive, which are easily overlooked by the casual observer. By early detection of the first indicators and exposing this, we can better defend against them.

Within the WhoDis project, a primary focus will be on the Theory of Change, where a clear problem is identified, in this case, online hate speech, and the necessary outcomes to resolve these goals. Justice for Prosperity can then put these outcomes into context: what does it mean, how threatening is the toxicity, does the public know about the involvement of certain actors, and is this polarising?

A representative visualisation of the Dutch population’s trust in democracy:

In the Netherlands, where the non-profit NGO Justice for Prosperity is based, there has been a growing deterioration of societal cohesion and a growth in polarisation amongst members of society, fueled by the spread of discriminatory messages and the spread of hate speech, and where hate speech can be viewed as an indicator of the state of the society. 

After all, some believe that the prevalence of hate speech can be used as a prevalence for the state of the rest of society.  There has been a scrambling of collective identity and nostalgia due to the current political climate that has led to the populist Geert Wilders’s PVV receiving the highest number of seats in the latest Dutch general elections of November 2023. However, this is not an exclusively new phenomenon, as since the assassination of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, there has been a continual rise in populism coupled with a notable lack of trust in politics. 

Currently, 7 out of 10 people have little to no confidence in political processes – and there is an emerging belief in conspiracy theories openly adopted by certain political parties, such as the Forum for Democracy. Furthermore, a significant minority, 36%, were either not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the state of democracy in the Netherlands. 

While the Netherlands is the same country that prides itself on being the first in the world to allow same-sex marriage in 2001 and is ranked 3rd in the EU based on gender equality, in 2023, 25% of Dutch politicians, the majority of whom were women, required protection. 

Sigrid Kaag, who is a high-flying political figure, as the first woman Finance Minister of the Netherlands and former Deputy Prime Minister, left Dutch politics after the November 2023 Dutch Elections. However, she did not leave Dutch Politics at her own will, but due to a ferocious harassment and slander campaign based on misogynistic hate messages and conspiracy theories that led to both her family and herself fearing for their own lives and physical safety, one of several women who left Dutch politics for similar reasons.

Together, Justice for Prosperity strives to collaborate with other Civil Society Organisations, as well as with the legislative power of national and multinational bodies, such as the Dutch Government as well as the European Union, to protect the freedom of the Internet and to make the Internet a safer place ultimately, so everyone feels safe on the internet and that young girls on social media in the Netherlands and across the world can aspire to be the future leaders of the world, without fearing that their lives would be at risk if they did so. 

The fight against online hate has never been more critical due to an ever-seeming surge of a growing campaign and climate of misinformation and polarisation in an ever-changing world shaped by a devastating global pandemic that brought the physical world to a halt, transforming human dependency upon technology, especially at a time when AI is the latest byword in technological development. 

For trust in democracy to recover, there is a dire need to uncover a growing trend of subversion within Western Democracies of undermining key figures and institutions. Therefore, the WhoDis Project aims to deliver the Justice for Prosperity project and uncover subversion to expose silent polarisation and use intelligence and security for good.

Truth and Justice,  by André Dao