Are my people really using hate speech?


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Why this theme?

When hate speech becomes the norm in a social group - on or offline - it can become difficult for those involved in the group to recognise that the behaviour is, indeed, hate speech. This “normalisation” of hate speech leads to acceptance and sometimes, repetition and broadcast of these socially unacceptable views. Experiencing this behaviour within one’s friendship group may lead to an ambivalence and possibly ingratiation of the views into the psyche of all the individuals in the group. Therefore being able to recognise that hate speech is being used within one’s social group enables the individual to challenge the status-quo and attempt to alter the prevailing use of hate speech towards others both in and out of the group. The activities in this theme help the young people identify the characteristics of, and importance of context in, hate speech.

Research Evidence

In the literature, “protected characteristics” are defined as core characteristics of individuals, which indicates that hate speech targets people just because of who they are (Free World Center, 2015). Besides the “protected characteristics” described as the first of the key features of hate speech, three more are needed in order to be able to define an expression as “hate speech”:

  • The content and tone of expression (Article 19, 2015).
  • The intention to cause harm (emotional direct harm, or make others cause physical harm or acts of violence) (Article 19, 2015).
  • The public dissemination of the act (McGonagle, 2013; Article 19, 2015).

Hate speech does more than merely express ideas or dissent; it promotes fear or intimidation with the aim to separate people and to spread hate words and actions. These features are important to understand in order to avoid the over or underestimation of the phenomenon, and to allow efficient prevention and intervention strategies.

Research has further shown that perpetrators are not always obviously organised extremists but also ordinary internet users, who may not express such speech in their offline life, they are not necessarily separated from everyday life and most of the times they belong to the same social circles and age groups as many of their victims (Keipi et al., 2016). Instead they prefer to hide behind a screen in order to express and spread their messages of hatred (Prism Project, 2015). They often view their material as educational rather than hateful or criminal (Okansen, 2015). They see themselves as soldiers and believers and their main motive is their “mission” but they are also attracted by thrill and fun.

Intended Outcomes

  • Recognise/identify the specific characteristics of online group hate speech.
  • Evaluate the role that context plays in hate speech in online groups.

Prompt Questions

These questions are provided as examples to initiate and guide discussions around the topics in this theme.

  • Can you think of a situation you or a friend have experienced where someone got the “wrong end of the stick”?
    • What happened? How did the misunderstanding occur?
    • What happened to resolve the misunderstanding and ensure you all correctly understood?
  • What emotions do you think people experience when the encounter hate speech?
    • Can you plot these on the Mood Meter graph?
    • How do people overcome those feelings and get on with the rest of their day?
  • How important is the context of a conversation in helping everyone to understand what’s happening?
  • How could you decide if a statement is hate speech or not?
    • What are the main characteristics of hate speech statements?