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T-REx – Taxonomy of Rights and Expressions for Freedom of Expression Governance Research

T-REx – Taxonomy of Rights and Expressions for Freedom of Expression Governance Research

It is difficult for scientists to gain insight into the deletion practice of social networks and online forums. Reports on the moderation practice of Facebook are without examples. However, comments that have just been deleted (and the methodology and reasons for deletion) are an important source for insights into the discourse practices practiced in online communication spaces, communicative figurations and the prevailing normative order.
The Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) has initiated a project with an Austrian daily newspaper, which maintains one of the largest German-language reader forums, to test new ways of combating hate speech in online forums while they are still running. Changes to the user interface, feedback loops and self-regulation processes in the community should lead to more constructive postings.

As part of this project, the WU team has been given access to the forum and to a database of anonymous content deleted by moderators and automatic filters. A similar database was made available to the WU team by Germany's largest Q&A platform.
Picture: Daiga Ellaby / unsplash.com
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Project Description

This is where the project - Taxonomy of Rights and Expressions for Freedom of Expression Governance Research (T-REx) - comes in.

In phase 1, a taxonomy of possible expressions of opinion and the filtering practices related to them will first be developed.

In phase 2, the deleted postings are then classified and analysed and compared with a sample of non-deleted postings.

In phase 3, a normative analysis of the findings is carried out. The "types of speech" reflected in the taxonomy include
  1. manifestly illegal and prohibited by international law (e.g.: terrorism, terrorism promotion, terrorism financing; sexual exploitation of children; qualified hate speech/calls for violence; promotion of genocide);
  2. illegal under national (criminal) law;
  3. not illegal but giving rise to civil proceedings;
  4. not allowed on a platform pursuant to community standards;
  5. otherwise sensitive
Afterwards, several samples of about 800-1000 postings each are sorted into the different categories of deleted content. This allows reliable statements about the relative frequency of reasons for deletion as well as the ratio of right to 'wrong' motivated decisions or incorrectly deleted postings. This, in turn, can be essential for further research on the governance of expressions of opinion.

Project Information


Duration: 2019-2020

Research programme:
RP2 - Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Digital Communication

Third party

Seed Money

Cooperation Partner

Ass. Prof. Dr. Ben Wagner,
Direktor des Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab an der Wirtschaftsuniversität (WU) Wien


Contact person

Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard)
Senior Researcher "Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Online Spaces"

Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard)

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

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