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Why is there hate speech content out there?

Media Analysis

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Remind participants about how our experiences, learning and role models around us build up stereotypes and prejudices in our own minds about ourselves and others.

Recognising and understanding these prejudices is very important. Firstly, it allows us to understand that having prejudices is normal; our brains’ development of representativeness heuristics is a natural function designed to help the brain cope with the demands of understanding everything we experience. Acknowledging this can allow greater objectivity and fewer feelings of guilt or shame around having prejudiced thoughts. Secondly, it increases our awareness of both our own and others’ prejudices, which makes it easier to examine, discuss and challenge such concepts.

By questioning the reasons behind why our own prejudices have formed and how/when they might be displayed, the opportunity to question the motivations of others’ display of prejudice becomes available. This section focuses on examples of prejudice in mass media, and the possible motivations behind them.

Prompt Questions

These questions are provided as examples to initiate and guide discussions around the topic in this focus area.

  • Do individuals alone show prejudice? What other groups show prejudice?
  • Where have you seen displays of prejudice by these groups?
  • Is there prejudice in the media? By whom, and what form does it take?
  • Have you ever seen a headline about a protected characteristic that shocked/angered/upset/pleased/humoured you?
    • Why did it make you feel this way?
    • Do you think it constitutes hate speech? Why/why not?
  • What do you think might motivate people/groups to post or publish this type of content?

Main Activity

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.”

Reading between the lines

In small groups, participants will consider the motivations of individuals and of groups (be they social groups, organisations, companies or another type). Using sticky notes, ask participants to write down as many different reasons as to why someone might do something/say something online.

Their lists might include reasons such as:

  • To advertise/sell you something.
  • Fo personal gain (e.g. financial, reputational, career, etc.).
  • To reach out/connect with others.
  • To compliment/praise/encourage someone.
  • To make them feel positive emotions.
  • To make others feel positive emotions.
  • To criticise/attack someone.
  • To make them feel negative emotions.
  • To make others feel negative emotions.
  • To defend someone/something.
  • To give an opinion/point of view.
  • To convince/persuade others.
  • To state a fact.
  • To signpost/link to information.
  • To raise awareness/warn people.
  • To spread news.
  • To spread false or misleading information (e.g. fake news).
  • To be humorous/make others laugh.
  • To gain attention to themselves or a cause.
  • To enhance their reputation.
  • To build a following/audience.
  • To deflect attention.
  • To ask/answer questions.

Encourage them to think of as many different scenarios as possible. At this stage it doesn’t matter if the motivations/reasons are viewed as positive or negative. Collect these suggestions in one place for both individuals and groups (e.g. a large piece of paper for individuals, a large piece of paper for groups).

Now ask participants to consider all the possible motivations behind why an individual or group may create/publish/share hate speech. Ask them to remove the sticky notes from their lists that no longer apply, or add any new ones that they hadn’t considered before.

  • Discuss the motivations they have listed; do they think hate speech is motivated by one factor or more?
  • What emotions is the author trying to elicit (e.g. fear, anger, outrage, etc.)?
  • What action(s) do you think they might want you to take as a result of reading their statement?

Using the slides provided, show participants the first statement. Explain that the blank space refers to a protected characteristic group.

Ask them to define:

  • The possible author.
  • The motive(s) behind making the statement.
  • The emotions they felt upon reading the statement.
  • The emotions the author was trying to elicit.
  • The action the author was trying to encourage.

Discuss as a group. Encourage participants to explain why the felt the way they did about the statement. Did anyone feel differently? Why? Now imagine that you are in the group that the blank statement refers to, how do the statements make you feel?


Using the Media analysis slides, ask participants to work in pairs/small groups to choose three of the headlines/statements. (These have been drawn from real life examples of online hate and prejudice from both mass media and social media, with the protected characteristic removed).

For each one, ask participants to:

  1. Guess which protected characteristic may have been targeted.
  2. State which emotion they felt when reading the statement, and why.
  3. Decide the possible author (e.g. newspaper, political group, individual).
  4. List the possible motives for the author posting/publishing the statement.
  5. What emotion the author was trying to elicit. Did it match their initial feeling? Why/why not?
  6. What do you think the author wants you to do as a result of reading their statement?


Encourage participants to fill in the blank in each statement with a missing word that can shift the tone of the statement from negative to positive. They can also modify the headline/statement if needed (e.g. _______ stealing our jobs → Nobody’s stealing our jobs! Stop being paranoid!).

Outcome Criteria

  • Recognise the emotions that may be elicited by online hate and prejudice through mass media and social media online.
  • Identify possible motives used by the author to elicit emotions and/or action.


Recognise the emotions that may be elicited by online hate and prejudice through mass media and social media online. Identify possible motives used by the author to elicit emotions and/or action.


Reading between the lines

Identifying the author, audience and possible motives used to elicit emotions and/or action.