Computing science graduate researches online hate speech to prevent real-world hate crimes

June 09, 2020

By: Andrew Ringer

Hoping to make a real-world impact with her research, computing science graduand Bdour Al-Zeer focused her master's thesis on the topic of hate speech. Working with a large dataset of online hate speech, Al-Zeer uses natural language processing and linguistic techniques to propose a framework that summarizes the  harmful language in a manner so that analysts can use the data without having to directly read offensive material and experience the psychological effects that may come with it.

Set to graduate this month, Al-Zeer’s research can be used to potentially prevent hate crimes by targeting action words within the dataset. The data for Al-Zeer’s thesis research was provided by the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies Vancouver and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. By studying online hate, Al-Zeer and her collaborators hope to prevent real-world hate 1.

Prior to joining SFU, Al-Zeer completed a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, and studied and worked in Germany as a student during her undergrad degree. Al-Zeer began her graduate studies at SFU in September 2017 and was initially interested in the university because her younger brother was studying at SFU at the time. Once she researched the School of Computing Science a bit further, her decision became easier. 

“I feel that the computing science department at SFU is a hidden gem with many high impact publications and strong industry partners,” says Al-Zeer. “The Natural Language Processing lab caught my attention the most.”

Since joining SFU, she has been an active member in the School of Computing Science. Al-Zeer participated as a member of the Women in Computing Science (WiCS) group throughout her degree, enjoyed teaching other students as a TA, presented her research at conferences and was awarded 2nd place at SFU CS Research Day last October. She credits her supervisor, Professor Fred Popowich, for supporting her during her time at SFU and for providing guidance on her research. 

“I could not have done this without Fred. A mentor like no other; he got me involved in several innovative research projects and exciting teaching opportunities, and constantly connected me with world-leading employers,” says Al-Zeer. 

Al-Zeer is proud of the work she has achieved during her time at SFU and is excited for the next steps in her career. After the COVID-19 pandemic settles, Al-Zeer plans to pursue her career in Academia as a lecturer to round out and sharpen her communication and leadership skills.

“I am thankful for the diversity of experiences I was able to attain while at SFU," says Al-Zeer. “At the moment, I am keen about teaching and the ability to profoundly impact younger minds. In particular, my goal is to empower young females to recognize their abilities and potentials.”

After teaching, she plans on either going back to school to work towards her PhD or work in industry to gain additional industrial skills.