Imagine you can eliminate most cases of bullying, racism, and even terrorism with just one click.
Isn’t it amazing?
The year 2020 affected many countries and took away lives. But the situation was even worse in my country. We were dealing with not only the pandemic but also the war. It changed our lives sweepingly. Our daily routines were replaced with constant searches for news from the frontlines.
Just like others, I was spending most of my days on the internet, hoping to find some positive information. And it was at that moment that I noticed a huge issue: the internet was lacking regulation. Words spreading bullying, racism, and even terrorism were circulating throughout the internet. They were reaching millions of people and causing deep psychological issues. Those were clear cases of hate crimes, something that is illegal in many countries. Yet, no single individual or organization was powerful enough to monitor the internet and detect all such cases. The Armenian government, which also passed a law banning hate speech, has only reported 14 cases during the whole year, among thousands of cases that went unnoticed.
I knew one thing: if left without attention, it would deteriorate and even turn into violence and hatred in the real life. The situation should change. People should be held accountable for their words.
But who was going to do that?
This question remained in my mind, keeping me awake during the nights.
Until, well, until one of my macroeconomics classes. It was about technologies and how it affects nations. While the professor was speaking and describing the magics that technologies create in making businesses more efficient, the answer to my question appeared in my mind.
What if we use technologies to facilitate crime detection?
I was lucky enough to find that there was an accelerator in Armenia organized by the UNODC. It was called Justice Accelerator and searched for young people with creative ideas to promote the rule of law. Et voila! Something that I needed. Without wasting any time, I submitted my application. Two weeks later, I was a team member with two other students. We had many differences. Two of us were from business, while the third one was a tech enthusiast learning data science. Yet, we were united under the same goal of transforming our society.
Easier said than done.
Although the first month went smoothly, things started to become tough. Sleepless nights were following coffee-injected days. Weekends were turned into weekdays, and the constant hustle was generating an enormous amount of stress. Also, it created a weird feeling. A feeling that nobody can truly understand your pains. It seemed overwhelming, as there was an infinite number of tasks. Yes, people were there to advise you, but the whole responsibility was only on you at the end of the day. But we moved on. With small steps, we still kept going. And after some time, when I looked back, I realized how much we managed to achieve. It was those small steps that, although seemed unimportant, helped us to overcome enormous difficulties.
By December, we already had the working prototype, a Chrome Extension that users could activate to have a safe digital environment. It automatically blocks hate speech for them, and also saves all criminal cases people encounter in its database, providing access to the police and international organizations.
We called it Grandma so that it would be as protective and caring as possible.
Only one thing kept our dream from becoming a reality – financing. Will we be selected as the winner and receive funding, or would we become one of those startups that, after hard work, die a horrible death?
My hands were shaking as I waited for the lady to open the envelop and declare the winner.
“Grandma, congratulations!” – she said finally.
I hardly managed to conceal my tears.
The internet should no longer be the same...