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£3.3 million research study to identify online harms to minority ethnic groups

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The OU is a partner in a consortium that has launched a study to look at the effect of digitalised services on minority ethnic (ME) groups across the UK.

Led by Heriot-Watt University, the £3.3 million Protecting Minority Ethnic Communities Online (PRIME) project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will identify the distinctive online harms that ME communities experience because of the digitalisation of key services and will set up a race equity living laboratory to address these inequalities.

Addressing lack of information about the experiences of ME communities online

This project addresses the lack of research and solid evidence about the experience of ME communities when using online services.

Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme and Dr Elizabeth FitzGerald from the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology are leading the project’s impact and dissemination work which begins with community engagement.

Professor Kukulska-Hulme said: “We are engaging with a wide range of organisations and communities to ensure that the project reaches relevant ME groups, that these groups are supported in contributing to the research and that they benefit from it.

“We wish to understand more deeply the nature of online harms experienced by the UK’s increasingly diverse citizens, and to play a role in improving lives by developing tools and policies that will make access to key services more equitable and safer for all.”

Part of Protecting Citizens Online programme

The project, which runs from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2025, will draw upon a range of academic expertise to develop innovative and ground-breaking policy guidance and tools for tackling deeply entrenched and persistent racial inequalities in the UK.

The multi-disciplinary research team will use their expertise in social science, applied linguistics, cyber security and privacy, data mining, machine learning, human computer interaction and educational technology to investigate online harms and mitigate their negative impacts on minority ethnic communities as key public services in health, energy, and housing move online.

The PRIME consortium which includes researchers from Heriot-Watt University, The Open University and the Universities of Cranfield, Glasgow and York, will also work closely with the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (REPHRAIN).

The project is working through the Strategic Priority Fund as part of the Protecting Citizens Online programme, initiated in response to the 2020 Online Harms White Paper. The project is administered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council (EPSRC) on behalf of UKRI.

Dr Kedar Pandya, EPSRC Director for Cross-Council Programmes, said: “With the increasing prevalence of digital technologies and services across society, there is a pressing need for further research into the impact on different communities and how user-focused tools can mitigate online harms. Through its multidisciplinary approach bringing together a wide range of expertise, PRIME will provide an important contribution to research in this area and help to develop the tools needed to tackle online discrimination.”

Partner organisations include CEMVO Scotland, Muslim Council of Britain, BEAP, CAHN, The Mental Health Foundation, Public Health Scotland, the NHS Race and Health Observatory, The Scottish Government Digital Directorate, Energy Systems Catapult, The Scottish Convention of Local Authorities, The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

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