It doesn’t have to be hate speech to harm

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It doesn’t have to be hate speech to harm

June 18 is the International Day for Countering Hate Speech and June 20 is World Refugee Day. With migrants and refugees often targeted by hate, it can be natural – and even useful – to mark the days together.

Certainly WACC Europe, after their 2017 media monitoring of the representation of refugees in European media, noted that the prevalence of hate speech towards refugees in social media was unmonitored and potentially more impactful in the public discourse. This observation led to another project to address hate speech online: Breaking Down the Social Media Divides.

Hate speech – born from fear and intolerance and generating more fear and division – has real life consequences for individuals and communities.

The UN states that hate speech via our new communication technologies “has become one of the most frequent methods for spreading divisive rhetoric and ideologies on a global scale. If left unchecked, hate speech can even harm peace and development, as it lays the ground for conflicts and tensions, wide scale human rights violations.”

And individually, people or vulnerable communities – such as asylum seekers – targeted by hate speech can be, at the minimum, further isolated and, at most, met with physical violence.

The WACC Europe guide Breaking Down the Social Media Divides gives many tools and tips on how to address hate speech online, support those who are targeted, and work towards online communities of respect and dignity.

But it also acknowledges that it’s often very hard to counter hate speech – when you have to choose when to engage and how – knowing that those you may be directly addressing won’t change but that you are showing others there is an alternative view.

Online platforms are being pressed to respond effectively to take down hate-filled posts, and their (inadequate) methods so far rely on platform policies and community reporting – as well as automated processes that search for and block key words and images.

What flies under the radar in these methods are what we call micro-aggressions.

Misogyny, racism, and other forms of discrimination are rampant in the words and images used online. The powerful report “Monetizing Misogyny” documents case after case of abuse and disinformation targeting women in politics with the aim of silencing them.

These should be, the report states, “treated as an early warning system” not just as attacks on women’s rights, but in eroding “democratic principles and institutions.”

So many of these types of aggressions online are dismissed as just comments. But their cumulative effect is perhaps even more harmful – not only isolating and silencing voices but creating a climate that can devolve into hate and actual violence.

Countering hate is essential. But so too is recognizing and challenging discrimination before it grows into hatred.

WACC recognizes the impact of micro-aggressions on individuals and democratic participation, and has developed a social media monitoring tool – adapted from the Global Media Monitoring Project methodology  – that helps people become more aware of misogyny online and collect evidence to bolster advocacy and education. Look for announcements of training or contact WACC to express your interest.

This week, as we mark these international days, we can reconfirm our commitment to expression which respects everyone’s right to have a voice. The more we do this, the more we diminish the impact of hate.

As stated in Breaking Down Social Media Divides: “However you choose to respond, your engagement in the matter is important. The number of haters out there is small in absolute terms, but they are very vocal. Using our voices to support the causes we believe in, and the targeted groups we work with, helps to demonstrate that haters are a minority. This is how we move away from being silent bystanders. This is how we confront online hate. This is how we bring respect and civility into the dialogue and break down the social media divides.”

Photo: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh  Credit: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance