Effects Of Online Hate Speech
Hate speech online is a phenomenon of special concern. The Internet has created new spaces of communication and interaction but with fewer constraints, users hide behind anonymity and distance to express hate to others.
Moreover, hate can be spread and shared easily, for example, via comments or re-posts, taking a life of their own beyond the original post. The effects can be devastating on the intended target of hate speech but also affect society as a whole.
In mainstream political discourse, we see a toxic mixture of hate speech, fake news, and “alternative facts” posing a serious threat to freedom and democracy. Therefore, Non-governmental Organizations like Internews and article 19 have taken a leading role in defining hate speech and helping ensure that journalists also understand the thin line between freedom of expression and hate speech.
“We place a great emphasis on education as the surest antidote to hate, working with journalists to teach the public the value of tolerant, democratic culture”, says Robert Kitui, a trainer from article 19.
According to Robert, hate speech spreads faster in social media as compared to other platforms.
“The most damaging examples of hate speech are often grounded in simple stories, which are repeated over and over again in different forms”, explains Robert.
“As journalists, we should not be in haste to forward information without verification. Seek the truth first”, he adds.
Young people are especially affected by hate speech, particularly hate speech online, because of the important role on the Internet and social media platforms in the lives of the so-called “digital natives”. The list is endless but most of them encounter body shaming, insults, negative responses, and comments among other things.
Yet the fact that they know how to use online tools does not mean that they know how to protect themselves from online hazards and how to identify and respond to manipulative techniques and propaganda.
According to doctor Phillip Saina, a psychologist from Moi teaching and referral hospital, parents should be careful about what their children are encountering on social media because it is at this stage that adolescence either build or destroy their inner being and self-esteem.
“Adolescence and youth are important periods for developing one’s identity and life skills, including Internet literacy skills and comments from social media can either mold or destroy the child’s growth”, explains Dr. Saina.
“Young people have the potential to learn from a challenging experience if supported. This can help them grow as individuals and as citizens. They can share their learning with their peers and lead innovative initiatives with enthusiasm, creativity, and courage through online”, adds Saina.
Internews’ core mission is to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Hate speech undermines this mission because it is a threat to democracy and to social cohesion. In collaboration with article 19, they also promote online safety, addresses discrimination, and promote democratic citizenship competencies through its programs and training for journalists, civil society among other groups.
It is important to have knowledge about human rights, what they are, and how they are safeguarded or protected through national and international human rights instruments. In the context of hate speech, it is important to know which and how human rights are violated or abused and which relevant national and international legal instruments apply.