Reflections on Pride: Changing social media to be more accepting and encouraging of the LGBTQ+ community

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Mon May 31 2021

Pride 2021


Author: Guest contributor

Springer Nature aims to help in the fight for equality and inclusion on multiple fronts, as evidenced by our Black Lives Matter portal and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG5: Gender Equality. For Pride month we have reached out to some of our authors, editors, and researchers, asking them to reflect on the concept of 'Pride' and how they are helping in the ongoing fight for equity and inclusion, and how we, as a scholarly publisher, are contributing to these goals by publishing and distributing their research.

In this interview we speak with Dr. Bharathi Raja Chakravarthi, a postdoctoral researcher at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Please tell us about the nature of your work.
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I am a postdoc researcher in Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, National University of Ireland Galway. I work on creating computer models to find the offensive language in social media and stop it automatically. I also work on finding hope speech in social media and encourage that behaviour. 

What does ‘Pride’ mean to you personally?

Pride is important for everyone; without it we will certainly get depressed. It was very difficult to have pride being an LGBT person because of our societal norms.. I think everyone should have pride in the good things they are doing in their lives and who they are.

How have you and/or do you work directly to address the advancement of LGBTQ+ acceptance and equity? 

My research is to create hope speech to bring equality, diversity and inclusion into everyone's lives. I created an automatic system to find hope speech in social media text and encourage this for LGBT people. With the expansion of the Internet, there has been substantial growth all over the world in the number of marginalised people looking for support online (Gowen et al., 2012;  Yates et al., 2017;  Wang andJurgens, 2018). Recently, due to the lockdowns enforced as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have started to look at online forums as an emotional outlet when they go through a tough time. The importance of the online life of the marginalised population, such as women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Management (STEM), people who belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Questioning (LGBTIQ) community, racial minorities or people with disabilities have been studied, and it has been proven that the online life of vulnerable individuals produces a significant impact on their self-definition (Chung, 2013; Altszyler et al., 2018; Tortoreto et al.,2019). Furthermore, according to Milne et al. (2016), Burnap et al. (2017) and Kitzie (2018), the social networking activities of a vulnerable individual play an essential role in shaping the personality of the individual and how they look at society. 

Comments/posts on online social media have been analysed to find and stop the spread of negativity using methods such as hate speech detection (Schmidt and Wiegand, 2017), offensive language identifi-cation (Zampieri et al., 2019a) and abusive language detection (Lee et al., 2018). According to Davidson et al. (2019), technologies developed for the detection of abusive language do not consider the potential biases of the dataset that they are trained on.   The systematic bias in the datasets causes abusive language detection to be biased and may discriminate against one group over another.  This will have a negative impact on minorities. We should turn our work towards spreading positivity instead of curbing an individual’s freedom of speech by removing negative comments. Therefore, we turn our research focus towards hope speech.  

Hope is commonly associated with the promise, potential, support, reassurance, suggestions or inspiration provided to participants by their peers during periods of illness, stress, loneliness and depression (Snyder et al., 2002). Psychologists, sociologists and social workers in the Association of Hope have concluded that hope can also be a useful tool for saving people from suicide or harming themselves (Herrestad and Biong, 2010).  The Hope Speech delivered by gay rights activist Harvey Milk on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall during a mass rally to celebrate California Gay Freedom Day on 25 June 19781 inspired millions to demand rights for equality, diversity and inclusion (Milk, 1997).  However, to the best of our knowledge, no prior work has explored hope speech for women in STEM, LGBTIQ individuals, racial minorities or people with disabilities in general.

How is this addressed in your research/work?

Over the past few years, systems have been developed to control online content and eliminate abusive, offensive or hate speech content. However, people in power sometimes misuse this form of censorship to obstruct the democratic right of freedom of speech.  Therefore, it is imperative that research should take a positive reinforcement approach towards online content that is encouraging, positive and supportive.  Until now, most studies have focused on solving this problem of negativity in the English language, though the problem is much more than just harmful content. Furthermore, it is multilingual as well. Thus, we have constructed a Hope Speech dataset for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (HopeEDI) containing user-generated comments from the social media platform YouTube with 28,451, 20,198 and 10,705 comments in English, Tamil and Malayalam, respectively, manually labelled as containing hope speech or not. To our knowledge, this is the first research of its kind to annotate hope speech for equality, diversity and inclusion in a multilingual setting.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

Short term goal is it change the social media to be more for acceptance of LGBT people and encouraging. Long term goal is to turn research towards being more positive and supportive of all.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

We don't have much public engagement other than LinkedIn but I think we have to bring this research and the importance of positive speech to all platforms.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing the advancement of LGBTQ+ acceptance and equity?

In some places it is still banned to talk about LGBTQ. It is difficult to submit papers addressing LGBTQ+ topcis. Everyone says we are all for equality but in research sometimes they just don't want to work with us.

Explore more on Springer Nature's LGBTQ+ Pride hub

Other blogs you might find interesting in our 'Reflections on Pride' series:

Dr Bharathi Raja Chakravarthi
About Bharathi Raja Chakravarthi
Dr. Bharathi Raja Chakravarthi, Postdoctoral Researcher, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland. Dr. Chakravarthi has completed his PhD in Machine Translation for under-resourced languages at NUI Galway. He also created resources for under-resourced Dravidian languages published in Machine Translation Summit and LREC 2020 associated events. He is co-organizing two workshops, five shared tasks at EACL 2021, two shared tasks with the FIRE 2020 conference.


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