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CMU And Pitt Are Collaborating To Fight Extremist Hate

Gene J. Puskar
Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh are teaming up to form a new center targeting extremist hate.

On today's program: The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are partnering to create a center to combat extremist hate; learning hubs have been a safe space for students in the pandemic, but it’s unclear if they’ll continue once students return to school;  and we’ll hear how U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman is trying to balance his support for transitioning to green energy with union jobs from the natural gas industry.

New Pittsburgh based ‘Collaboratory Against Hate’ will study and fight extremism
(0:00 — 8:02) 

Eight people were killed in metro Atlanta on Tuesday. This crime, while still under investigation, has elements of a targeted attack against women and those of Asian descent. 

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security allocated $77 million in grants to combat domestic extremism. Last year, a report from the Center for Strategic and International studies found that white supremacists and other similar extremists were responsible for almost 70% of terrorist plots and attacks in the country.  

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are partnering to create a center to combat extremist hate.

The center will be led by Kathleen Blee, a professor of sociology and dean of Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, and Lorrie Cranor, director and Bosch Distinguished Professor in Security and Privacy Technologies in CMU’s CyLab.

“Extremist hate is usually defined in two ways: One is hate that’s targeted at particular social groups, and generally those are minoritized, marginalized groups,” says Blee. “The other component is, extremist hate is often at least opening the conversation to violence as a solution.”

Blee has studied white supremacy for three decades, and says the methods of dissemination and recruitment tactics have changed over time. She says white supremacist groups are more global than ever, and also tech savvy. 

“Over the last 40 years or so, one of the ironies has been that white supremacist extremism has always been at the front end of technology,” says Blee. 

“They can reach [new members] on social networks, they can reach them on social gaming platforms,” explains Cranor, co-leader of the collaboratory.

“We have technologists at Carnegie Mellon already who are working on using technology to track the spread of extremism online,” says Cranor. “They’re using machine learning to analyze messages, to try to find evidence of extremist ideas and hate speech in these messages, so there's a lot that we can do with technology to help us automate detection and then hopefully, eventually, actually curtailing the spread of these extremist ideas.”

Blee says the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in 2018 prompted conversations that made the collaboration possible. She says both institutions wanted “to think about ways in which Pittsburgh could be an example of how to confront and combat extremist hate, not simply an example of a place where one of the largest tragedies of extremist hate happened.”

Learning hubs have been a boon for many parents, but their future once in-person classes resume is ‘murky’
(8:04 — 13:23) 

School closures left local parents in a precarious position. Without in-person instruction, parents, particularly those essential workers, needed somewhere or someone to help their children through the daily virtual schooling. 

Learning hubs opened as a response to this need. 

“In Allegheny county, there are 62 learning hubs,” says TyLisa Johnson, an education reporter for PublicSource. “In the fall we knew that they served about a thousand students, the majority of them at the time were coming from Pittsburgh Public [Schools].” 

Johnson says the hubs are typically rooms with 20 to 30 students spaced out with their technology and headphones, and two adults present to help facilitate their learning.

The hubs cost about $800,000 a month to operate, and the county Department of Human Services is currently footing the bill with Children Youth & Family state funding. 

“Advocates are hoping that they can stay open through this next round of COVID relief funding, but it’s murky,” says Johnson.

Some kids are thriving in this setting, but Johnson says it’s also clear students are tired and have been struggling with various technology available based on their school district.

“These hubs see students from multiple school districts, from charter schools, from traditional public schools,” says Johnson. “Some students had Kindles, some students had iPads, some students had Chromebooks.”

Despite the challenges, Johnson says hub staff have been proud of their work to support families. “They feel as though they’ve been able to be really flexible to families because they’ve been really open to hearing their needs regularly,” says Johnson.


Some say John Fetterman’s stance on fracking is unclear
(13:31 — 18:0o) 

Many Pennsylvania Democrats struggle to stake out a clear position on fracking. Environmental groups oppose the natural gas drilling practice, but union supporters say a ban would cost jobs.  

90.5 WESA’s Lucy Perkins looks at how U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman has tackled the subject since he last ran for the job in 2016.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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