As the number of active white nationalist groups continues to rise across the country and the Mountain West, researchers at the University of Utah have unveiled a new app that lets people anonymously report hate crimes and speech.
The “Hate Incident Reporting System” app, which was developed by the University of Utah’s geography department and DIGIT Lab, would allow users to describe racist posters, language or experiences using photos, videos and a short description. Listing your name or other identifying information is optional.
“We are trying to capture instances of hate speech and propaganda just so we can build a better idea of what’s happening,” said Emily Nicolosi, a researcher at the University of Utah’s geography department and the app’s co-developer. “The data on hate crimes and incidents is really lacking.”
Hate crimes are often underreported to law enforcement agencies partly due to a lack of trust by people of color and undocumented immigrants, Nicolosi said. By allowing users to respond to incidents anonymously, they hope to better track the rising number of hate groups in the region and country.
Nicolosi acknowledges that people could take advantage of the app to record false incidents.
“We really hope people take this problem seriously enough to be good citizens and not misuse it,” she said.
Regardless, the researchers will validate against any false incidents by cross-checking reports with each other and with local news stories, Nicolosi said. The developers plan to use Salt Lake City as a pilot site for the program.
College campuses in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have been targeted in recent months by two anti-immigration white nationalist groups — the American Identity Movement and Patriot Front.
The groups are both linked to the European-born, far-right “identitarian” movement, which frames changing demographics from immigration as a form of white genocide.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations tallied a record number of hate-motivated incidents in 2017, but researchers believe the statistics are much higher.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.