Cyber Heroes: Mobilizing young people for counter speech in dealing with cyberbullying, hate and trolling on the Internet

Project: Contract research

Project Details


Counter Speech, i.e. the support and dissemination of targeted responses to hateful, violent, racist and extremist content on the Internet, is currently one of the most promising initiatives aimed at sending clear signals against the apparently uncontrollable increase in such content. Online counter narratives aim at contributing to the delegitimisation of such content among the online public and, consequently, at changing the discourse norms. The objective is to influence exposed persons (e.g. juveniles who are prone to extremism or violence) by confronting them with counter speech messages, and mobilising other Internet users for active counter speech.

Young people as main target group of counter speech measures are confronted with various types of attacks and violence, such as cyberbullying in the form of insults, harassment, postings intended to incite hatred, blackmailing, intimidation, public humiliation or trolling through deliberate provocation. Juvenile online counter speakers who – spontaneously and visible to the public – speak out against negative content on the Internet have a particularly high potential to get through to those peers whose discourse norms should be modified. However, research on counter speech has neglected the wide variety of juvenile online violence, supportive or inhibiting factors for young people’s spontaneous answers, and an appropriate design of counter speech offers for this target group.

The project addresses this gap in research. It first makes a contribution to basic research on 14- to 18-year-old adolescents and analyses (i) how they typically react to negative content, (ii) which elements of communication are considered effective and feasible from the point of view of girls and boys, and (iii) how can previous counterproductive response behaviour be modified by means of counter speech and in a way that is acceptable to and applicable for young people.

For this purpose, the project uses innovative methods: Online role-playing games and subsequent discussions, content analysis of user comments posted on popular blogs or online platforms, and an online field experiment in cooperation with YouTubers who are popular among young people. In cooperation with the participating project partners, the empirical results will directly add to the development of counter speech support programmes appropriate for young people by means of best practice examples and related training and teaching measures.
Short titleCyber Heroes
Effective start/end date1/03/1928/02/22

Collaborative partners

  • (lead)
  • Mauthausen Komitee Österreich
  • Österreichisches Institut für angewandte Telekommunikation
  • Bundeskanzleramt
  • Bundeskriminalamt, Bundesministerium für Inneres (BMI)