Moneycab.com: Mr. Mazzara, Silenccio is fighting hate speech with tech-based monitoring in social media and the internet. Are you doing the job that platforms like Facebook or Twitter are supposed to do?
Alexander Mazzara: we see our offering as add-on to the – admittedly expandable activities of the platforms. In addition, our independence allows us to go further than global players that are embedded in complex corporate structures. We use legal ways and means, in case necessary. Furthermore, this separation leads to another key differentiation: we stick up for our client’s self-determination – they have the authority to decide if a certain critical comment gets a warning or not.
All sorts of hate speech (such as digital bullying, racism, insults, slander) in the virtual reality are an issue that concerns both individuals as companies, politicians and journalists. How do you classify the phenomenon? Is it just a mirroring our society or is it rather part of “digital puberty” in which we still stand?
It is a mixture of both aspects. On the one hand, we face a brutalization in the way we interact on various levels that have become socially acceptable by exposed personalities like politicians. On the other hand, it is like with all innovations in our society, it takes a certain period of time that goes along with uncertainty, until social norms have been adapted to the new circumstances and subsequently are reflected in legislature. Unfortunately, these two factors aggravate one another at present.
Silenccio informs their clients about detected hate speech and intervenes at a stage, where the defamation is public already. In your point of view, where should society action to prevent hate speech overall? The parents, the schools, the platforms?
“We need to aim for a broad social consensus that integrity, respect and accountability for each one’s action are also valid in the virtual world. It will have to be all of us together”
„We need to aim for a broad social consensus that integrity, respect and accountability for each one’s action are also valid in the virtual world. It will have to be all of us together.” Alexander Mazzara, CEO Silenccio
Based on your experience: what are the first reactions of the person affected by hate speech?
Helplessness. Affected people often describe their feelings similarly to people who have been or are concerned by hate in reality. To lose control over the incidents is truly hurting. And in many cases it is public and can be read by thousands of people. And liked.
How does Silenccio discover hate speech?
We have developed a hate-detection tool.
When critical messages are found, you inform the client. How often do you manage to detect the originator of the posting?
Our experience shows that often, a warning is enough and therefore, a law case can be avoided. The fact that composers being contacted in real life, is new and often leads to the them for the first time having to take responsibility for their actions. It is thought-provoking
So, how can affected people fight hate speech?
If they are Silenccio clients, we will take over from warning until a potential law case – always in agreement with the client.
„For many people, the regular round table has digitized. In addition, many see the virtual world as some sort of right-free area. We need to raise awareness that this is not the case“
At the point where your intervention does not lead to success, the case can be handed over to AXA-ARAG, a legal protection insurance. Which instruments do they have at hand?
The Swiss criminal code includes most elements of an offense that occur on social media, such as slander, libel, threat, public incitement to crime or violence.
Freedom of speech does have its limits in democracies. Are the authors of hate speech aware of that?
Oftentimes they are not. For many people, the regular round table has digitized. In addition, many see the virtual world as some sort of right-free area. We need to raise awareness that this is not the case.
You founded Silenccio in 2018 together with three Partners. How did you come up with the idea?
I coincidentally spent time in the US during Donald Trump’s election in 2017 and noticed how much hate, offenses and threats where spreading on the internet around his investiture (on all hands). At the same time, in real life, such behavior was clamped down on immediately – like in two different worlds, even though there is only one law.
Back in Switzerland I started to discuss the issue with other entrepreneurs – we all found that hate speech not only has a negative impact on our society, but that there is also market niche for detection and elimination of hate, slander and Co on the internet. In Switzerland, legal regulations are very clear, and still there is more and more hate speech, slander and threat online.
Therefore, we built that algorithm that monitors the internet and social media and detects such comments. In a first step, we warn the author and try to eliminate as many comments as possible. In the case this isn’t successful, we were looking for a partner who could cover the legal side of it and AXA-ARAG decided to cooperate with us to being able to offer an integrated solution
To what extent are you using your technology on other levels, for example for booking platforms and review sites? For instance, a hotel might not want to have comments about a noisy job-site right next to it. A case for Silenccio?
We are advocates for freedom of speech, which leads to the fact that critical comments are welcome wherever justified. We only fight messages that violate the law. For example, this concerns slander, libel, threat, public incitement to crime or violence, but not a bad rating.
Mr. Mazzara, many thanks for the interview.