SFU grad hopes her thesis can help prevent hate crimes

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      When SFU computing-science student Bdour Al-Zeer graduates later this month, master's degree in hand, she will do so with the knowledge that not only can she aspire to making the world a better place but she has probably already done so.

      Al-Zeer came to SFU's school of computing science in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. After deciding to direct her thesis at the subject of hate speech, she started to research hateful online commentary within a voluminous dataset made available by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies-Vancouver.

      Facilities within the university's Natural Language Processing Laboratory enabled Al-Zeer to summarize the abusive and derogatory online commentary so that future analysts can take advantage of the data.

      Besides saving time, convenient access to such information obviates the need for exposure to the original hateful material, which can be psychologically harmful to some individuals.

      Ultimately, the hope is that analysts can prevent future hate crimes by searching for targeted words or phrases within the assembled data.

      “I feel that the computing science department at SFU is a hidden gem with many high-impact publications and strong industry partners,” Al-Zeer said in a June 12 SFU release. “The Natural Language Processing lab caught my attention the most.”

      Her research won her second place in a computing-science research-day competition last fall, and she has presented her work at conferences.

      Al-Zeer hopes to become an academic lecturer and then follow up with either a PhD or work in industry.

      “I am thankful for the diversity of experiences I was able to attain while at SFU," Al-Zeer added in the release. “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.”