First Workshop on NLP for Internet Freedom




Organizers:  Chris Brew, Anna Feldman, Chris Leberknight



Topic and Content


According to the recent report produced by Freedom House (, an  “independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world”, Internet freedom declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year. 67% of all Internet users live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.  Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year. Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook. Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.

Various barriers exist to prevent citizens of a large number of countries to access information. Some involve infrastructural and economic barriers, others  violations of user rights such as surveillance, privacy and repercussions for online speech and activities such as imprisonment, extralegal harassment or cyberattacks. Yet another area is limits on content, which involves legal regulations on content, technical filtering and blocking websites, (self-)censorship.

Large internet providers are effective monopolies, and themselves have the power to use NLP techniques to control information flow. Users are suspended or banned, sometimes without human intervention, and with little opportunity for redress. Users react to this by using coded, oblique or metaphorical  language, by taking steps to conceal their identity such as the use of multiple accounts, raising questions about who the real originating author of a post actually is.

This workshop should bring together NLP researchers whose work contributes to the free flow of information on the Internet.  The topics of interest include (but are not limited) to the following:

We hope that our workshop will have a transformative impact on society by getting closer to achieving Internet freedom in countries where accessing and sharing of information are strictly controlled by censorship.

Duration and Estimated Number of Attendees

Duration: One day

Estimated attendance: 20-25

(We will aim for a panel session as part of the workshop. If we have a sufficient amount of strong submissions, we will organize a poster session.)





Chris Brew         Computational semanticist and general computational linguist. Currently a computational research scientist at Digital Operatives, working on processing of cybersecurity-related postings on both the open and the dark web, with the aim of enhancing defense against imminent attacks. Previously at Ohio State, ETS, Nuance and Thomson Reuters. He co-organized several *ACL workshops on Teaching and Learning of NLP, was a program chair for HLT/EMNLP 2005, and was the local arrangements chair for ACL 2008.


1611 North Kent Street, Suite 905 Arlington, Virginia, 22209; E-mail:


Anna Feldman         Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science at Montclair State University. Currently working on automatic detection of figurative language as well as on linguistically-informed approaches for measuring and circumventing Internet censorship. She co-organized a number of workshops in the past:  NAACL/HLT 2007 Workshop on Figurative Language; two NAACL/HLT workshops on Computational Approaches to Linguistic Creativity (2009,2010);  one EACL, two NAACL/HLT and one ACL workshop on Computational Linguistics for Literature (CLfL 2014-2016) and LaTeCH-CLfL 2017.


1 Normal Avenue, Schmitt Hall 240B, Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, 07043 ; E-mail: 



Chris Leberknight        Chris Leberknight is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Montclair State University. Currently working on identifying covert social networks and passive techniques to detect online censorship. He has served as Chair and TPC member for several workshops in the past: Track Chair, 14th Annual Security Conference – Information Institute (May 19-21, 2015), TPC Member 1st IEEE International Workshop on Online Social Networks (September 8-11, 2014), Edmonton, Canada, TPC Member 2nd IEEE ICC 2011 International Workshop on Social Networks, Kyoto, Japan,  Local Arrangement Chair for WiOpt 2011 (, Chair of the Learning Systems Track for the 2010 Conference on Information Science and Systems at Princeton University, (


1 Normal Avenue, Richardson Hall 321, Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, 07043; E-mail: 




Program Committee (confirmed):

  1. Joan Bachenko, Deception Discovery Technologies, NJ
  2. Jedidiah Crandall, University New Mexico, NM
  3. Chaya Hiruncharoenvate, Mahasarakham University 
  4. Lifu Huang, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), NY
  5. Zubin Jelveh, The University of Chicago
  6. Judith Klavans, Columbia University, NY
  7. Jeffrey Knockel, University New Mexico, NM
  8. Will Lowe, Princeton University
  9. Rada Mihalcea, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
  10. Prateek Mittal, Princeton University, NJ
  11. Rishab Nithyanand, Data & Society, NY
  12. Noah Smith, University of Washington
  13. Thamar Solorio, University of Houston, TX
  14. Mahmood Sharif, Carnegie Mellon University, PA
  15. Evan Sultanik, Trail of Bits, NY 
  16. Svitlana Volkova, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, WA 
  17. Brook Wu, NJIT, NJ

Special Technical Requirements         N/A

Preferred Venue

1.    COLING 2018, Santa Fe, NM, USA

2.    NAACL-HLT 2018, New Orleans, LA, USA

3.    ACL 2018, Melbourne, Australia

4.    EMNLP 2018 (Location TBD)