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  • Aaron Axline

Areto Labs: using technology to combat online toxicity

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

In cyberspace, everyone knows what you're thinking—once you've typed it into a chat window or a website's comment box, that is. It has never been easier in human history for people to share their thoughts on any subject with audiences ranging in size from a handful to millions. But, our modern technology 24/7 open-mike night is a mixed blessing.

Free expression of ideas can bring people together in constructive and transformative ways, but there is a dark aspect to handing everyone a digital talking stick. Online hate and toxicity are a 21st century epidemic, infecting global discourse and creating an unhealthy atmosphere of distrust and open hostility. Social media trolls and comment thread thugs are drowning out meaningful debate of opinions and hijacking discussions around critical social issues.

Areto Labs is an Edmonton-based start-up dedicated to rebuilding the connection between technology and human empathy. The company is developing AI-powered social listening, and content moderation and delivery systems designed to counter internet trolls and foster inclusive digital workplace cultures that prioritize diversity and positive mental health.

Areto Labs co-founder and COO Kasey Machin didn't start out in the technology field. Her start-up journey began years ago from her observations of how online toxicity was dissuading women from running for public office, adding to the existing gender gap at all levels of government.

This issue was the catalyst for the creation of ParityBOT, a Twitter bot built to send positive tweets in response to negative and abusive messages sent to women running for public office. Rather than attempting to go after the senders of negative tweets, ParityBOT counters online noxiousness with a positive retort of inspirational quotes and messages of affirmation.

The success of ParityBOT led to the creation of Areto’s suite of products, Areto Listener, Areto Ally and Areto Coach. The three products currently make up Areto Labs' product offering.

Areto Labs has become a driving force for positivity at a vital time in our digital age. A growing number of social science experts are warning people about the physical and mental impact that online hate has on our lives.

The brain's neurochemical reply to unpleasant or hostile online messages is the classic 'flight or fight' response, also known as acute stress response. This evolutionary response triggers an automated series of physiological changes that prime the body for physical attack. Over time, multiple episodes of acute stress response can contribute to the formation of mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder.

The hostility and negativity we experience in our online lives can literally make us physically and emotionally ill.

Areto Labs' co-founders COO Machin, CEO Lana Cuthbertson, and CPO Jacqueline Comer are evolving the company's AI-powered intellectual property into new products designed to help organizations improve their talent retention and promote a better brand ambassador and employee experience.

When asked about the decision to base their start-up here in Alberta, Machin offered this simple and sincere response: “This is our home.” She is enthusiastic about the current effort by local tech entrepreneurs to transform our province into a more diversified place to work and live.

Watch our interview with COO/co-founder Kasey Machin to learn more about Areto Labs!

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