The SEL activities helped the learners identify the range of emotions that may be present in different communities (both online and offline), including communities they belong to. They had opportunity to explain why those emotions might be present, and how those emotions may influence the actions/responses of the group when encountering hate speech.
In this Media analysis unit, learners will consider how online environments can influence the messages you see and the decisions made by online groups. They will research the concepts of filter bubbles and echo chambers to understand how these phenomenon relate to the formation and amplification of hate speech online.
These questions are provided as examples to initiate and guide discussions around the topic in this focus area.
- Which groups do you belong to online/offline?
- Why are you a member of those groups?
- In what ways are you similar to other members of that group? (e.g. age, interests, location, etc.)
- In what ways are you different to other members of that group?
- Are there characteristics that are shared universally, regardless of which group you might belong to?
The SELMA project short definition of hate speech is:
“Any online content targeting someone based on protected characteristics with the intent or likely effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination.”
This activity is based on a popular online game where larger circles can absorb smaller circles. The first part of this activity replicates the game in an offline context in order to sort learners into different groups.
Note: This activity is designed with larger groups in mind (e.g. around 30 learners) but can be run with a smaller group by using two colours instead of three.
Using the Unplugged Prokaryote cards, shuffle the cards and give one to each learner. Each card will display a coloured circle with a number - this number represents the group size they should be in at the start of the game (either a group of three (3), a pair (2) or solo (1)).
Once in their groups, ask learners to space themselves around the room.
Once the game starts, their aim is to move around the room and merge into another group in order to increase their group size. Learners can only merge with a group of the same colour.
The cards also contain rules that each learner must follow:
- Cards displaying 2 and 3 - can only absorb a group smaller in size than them
- Cards displaying a 1 - can only be absorbed by a group of X or bigger (where X is a different number on each card)
The game continues until all learners have merged into three large groups (one for each colour).
Once all learners have merged into the large groups, explain to them that their colour also represents a particular group of people.
Red - Animal rights activists
Blue - LGBTQ community
Yellow - Refugees
Ask the three groups to stand in a triangle (one group at each point of the triangle) with each group at least a metre apart from each other (the further apart each group are, the more challenging the activity).
Explain to the learners that their groups represent three distinct communities that exist in society (offline and online) and, at first glance, appear very different. However, there are characteristics of members of the groups that connect them with members of another group.
An important aspect of changing perceptions and behaviour is to help people from different/conflicting groups to see the things they have in common. Building these bridges between groups/communities helps to develop empathy and an understanding of another’s view and opens lines of communication.
Ask learners to look at the members in the other groups and try to identify something they have in common with one or more of those members. This could be as simple as recognising that they could belong to another group as well as their own (e.g. a member of the LGBTQ community can also be a member of an animal rights group etc.) or could be a more specific connection (e.g. “I and <group member> both play tennis”, “I and <group member> are both Christians”, “I and <group member> were both born in January”, etc.).
For the purposes of this activity, learners should be themselves so that they can more easily identify the similarities they have with their peers.
Going to each group in turn, ask one member to state their connection to another group/a member in another group. After stating their connection, that group member should take a step out of their group towards the group they have a connection with.
Continue to ask each group about their connections; as members step out of their group they should move in front of another member that has stepped out of the group (creating a line of people that extends out of their group towards another group).
Challenge the learners to find enough connections to physically connect their group to another (their lines should then form the three sides of the triangle).
Congratulate the learners when the activity ends; they have successfully built bridges between three groups with different views, beliefs and priorities!
Bubbles and echoes
Introduce/explain the concepts of filter bubbles and echo chambers to learners; this YouTube video is useful in explaining the concepts
Building bridges opens lines of communication but also exposure to different beliefs and opinions. This is especially important online where membership of a particular group can lead to only seeing/hearing beliefs and opinions expressed within that group, views that are usually already aligned with your own. This is known as an “echo chamber”.
Social media and online services rely on algorithms to select information they think a user will want to see. This is based on the user’s search history, links they have followed/clicked on, their location and other demographic data (e.g. age, gender, interests, education, socio-economic status, etc.). This can result in a user only seeing online content that aligns with their beliefs and opinions. This is known as a “filter bubble” (a term coined by Eli Pariser, 2010). The only way a user can experience other views and opinions is to break out of their filter bubble and seek out information that opposes their own views (this also requires a user to recognise that they are within a filter bubble in the first place!).
Note: There is debate as to how big an impact echo chambers and filter bubbles have on people’s ability to find wider information that can change their views; this article provides a contrasting view and might be a useful starting point for a discussion.
Ask learners if they can think of any recent examples of filter bubbles/echo chambers influencing people’s views, attitudes and behaviours (general elections, referendums and controversial events/current affairs provide a good starting point).
- Can you think of any examples that have involved hate speech?
- How big a factor do you think filter bubbles/echo chambers are in influencing people to create/share hateful content?
- What other factors may contribute to this?
- Does the media create echo chambers? If so, why and how?
Ask learners to carry out home-based research into recent news stories about filter bubbles/echo chambers or where these phenomenon may have played a part in influencing opinion and behaviour.
Using the newspaper front page template, they should write a headline (or record an existing headline of a story) for their chosen news story and provide a paragraph summarising what they have found out about the effect of filter bubbles/echo chambers. A space is provided for an image if they wish to include one, and the space at the foot of the template is for them to record their source(s).
Provide time in a follow up session for learners to share their findings with the whole group and consider if there are any trends or common features across the stories. What implications do they think this phenomenon has for the creation and sharing of hateful content, and the discussions around hate speech online?
Understand how finding similarities can bridge different groups. Explain how filter bubbles and echo chambers can influence people's views and behaviour online.