Hate Speech on Social Media: the Negative Side of Online Freedom

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Social media has changed our sense of privacy. We have a sense of distance to the profiles on Facebook and not only, which often gives the impression that there are no rules of social functioning as in the real world. The keyboard becomes a tool, and the monitor screen is like a shield that we can hide behind. Therefore, we often do things that we would not decide to do in the real world, and we perceive the importance of some words differently. Social media are infected with hate speech and anyone can be a victim. It is a way to express negative thoughts with offensive words, which gives an 'opportunity' to become popular and express negative emotions. Hate speech is mostly aimed at someone who is different from us. It can be origin, skin color, sexual orientation or religion. Hate speech on social media is the key topic of this essay as the victims of hate speech can be anyone - celebrities, active users, as well as average people using social media; that is why each of us should be aware of that we broadcast through social networks and how we do this. 

When we write in the network, we do not see the face of the interlocutor. Something we would not have told him personally, looking him straight in the eye, we can definitely post. We are not able to feel empathy towards the other, because we only have a computer screen in front of our eyes, especially when we're arguing. There are people who talk to each other using curses and insults - because they were spoken this way at home. So they try to communicate the same way with others on the web According to the article in The Sudbury Star newspaper, in many situations, what is seen as hate speech is actually fear speech, and we have to try to face this fear. “Some people feel threatened when they foresee a change that could shake one of their core constructs - their identity, their culture, their religious beliefs or their values. Instead of trying to understand this change, they fight it aggressively. Social media did not invent hate speech”. I agree with this article, that most cases of hate speech are caused by the people’s fear. There is a lot of diversity in the world and some people are not used or prepared for it. Let’s face it – people are stubborn and do not care about other’s opinion about anything. Stereotypes and prejudices arise most often when there is insufficient knowledge about a given topic, when a person has never met a representative of a minority whom he hates and for these reasons uses simplified thought patterns. It is guided by fear of otherness - religious, cultural, sexual and a sense of threat, harm caused by the presence of 'strangers'.

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Hate speech extends beyond the virtual zone and has its consequences in everyday life. It is worth remembering that hate speech usually affects what is very important to all of us - our dignity and reputation. It makes us feel hurt by hateful comments at our address. Unfortunately, someone who is weaker, for some reason is mocked or criticized by the whole group, and it is hard for him to defend himself. In the Freedom of Speech and Social Media article Noel Diem says “Stricter online controls would help alert the authorities in some cases. Social media can be used for internet bullying, which in some cases is worse than the traditional verbal bullying. Online gossiping and social media platforms allow the bullying to continually exist–a problem for both the bully and the bullied”. Such a form of abuse of their victims, according to psychologists, results from the fact that it is easier to humiliate, discredit and harass, when there is a chance to hide behind an online pseudonym and there is no need to confront the victim eye to eye. Persecution via the Internet is particularly dangerous because compromising or humiliating materials are available in a short time for many people and remain on the network forever, as copies on many computers, even after deleting and punishing the perpetrator. The victim becomes less resistant to the content and begins to believe that resisting does not make sense. A person who was criticized on social media often suffers from insomnia, lives under constant stress, and begins to fear to express his own opinion on the Internet. It may isolate a person from the rest of society, lead to depression and even suicide attempts.

Facebook does not allow to propagate hatred towards very specific groups. Strictly: for comments attacking other users based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, disability or illness. At the same time, the attacker's goal must be clear and should not leave any doubts. Dawn Chmielewski wrote “The social network said it is making strides in proactively identifying hate speech, saying it’s able to remove the majority of posts before users report them. It’s also gotten better at finding violent or graphic content”. Many social media services, especially Facebook, constantly fight with hate speech. They do pretty good job with that. We can see that most of comments attacking someone are deleted immediately. Each logged in person can send the attacker a message (a small chance that it will be successful), remove him from a list of friends or block him. Users also have a possibility to report someone who spreads hatred towards another person. That is a great way to help Facebook to fight with hate speech. However, each of these methods fails at some point. On one of the fan-pages, several dozen people are happy that someone is no longer alive. The website has been reported several times. Unfortunately, there is no reaction from the service. The joy of someone's death was obviously taken for a joke. Facebook and other social networks are doing well to remove content clearly crossing borders: pornographic, brutal or cruel. They do not fight with what is not always expressed directly, not always richly and suggestively illustrated, but still acute.

Each of us can be and each of us is a hater. Aggressive behaviors are most often the result of some frustration. It may be related to what has happened to us or what has not happened to us. Crossing our borders or making someone more successful. The hatred that arises as a result of aggression and frustration is very deeply rooted in each of us. For many people it is a way of functioning, and for those who give a sense of superiority due to the humiliation of another person and the venting of emotions - even brings a reward in the form of satisfaction. Instagram, which was created as a page where you can share selected photos of your meals, cute animals and adorable children, largely avoided the analysis of disinformation and content that spreads hatred - especially Facebook. However, social media researchers said the site has become a mainstay of hateful posts and videos over the past year. “On Sunday, one new video added to Instagram claimed that the state of Israel was created by the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family. Underneath the video, the hashtags read #conspiracy and #jewworldorder”. Under the influence of emotions, we use manipulative arguments that do not lead to anything. The facts are the most important, and we only base on our beliefs. We give in, without confronting them with reality. We often observe that someone has a second person for nothing, we follow certain patterns and someone who has other beliefs becomes our enemy. We are looking to blame someone and we think that someone is guilty of being wrong. Such a worldview can be very dangerous because we do not look at ourselves, but other people. We must learn to control our emotions, not to share and not comment on potentially conflicting content. To criticize substantively, not to humiliate, or insult, and try to resolve conflicts outside the Internet. It is also important to pay attention to those who cross that border.

Unlike people exposed to 'traditional' violence, the victim of cyberbullying is always available to its perpetrator. Not only because children and teenagers are often online almost all the time or because they cannot hide anywhere. Harmful comments and materials can remain in it forever - quite differently than words uttered in real life, which go into oblivion, they 'disappear.' Something posted on the internet does not disappear unless it is deleted. The attacked person is therefore aware of the violence and its duration, even if the person is offline at the time. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of American adults have experienced some form of online harassment. “In the context of the study, online harassment refers to offensive name-calling (27 percent have experienced), purposeful efforts to embarrass them (22 percent), physical threats (10 percent), stalking (7 percent), harassment over a sustained period of time (7 percent), or sexual harassment (6 percent)”. It is easy to make the act of aggression public on the internet. This is of course also possible outside the network (e.g. humiliating someone in the presence of the class), but the internet usually means a much larger scale - witnesses of 'public humiliation' may be not only dozens, but even hundreds, thousands and even millions of people. Awareness of such humiliation can push people experiencing it to extreme reactions caused by victimization. Haters usually do not see the reactions of people they attack, and sometimes they do not think about them at all. However, they do not have access to their facial expressions, body language, authentic emotional reactions, which they may not be aware of the size and severity of the harm done. Of course, this does not apply to everyone, there are also those aggressors who hate intentionally, and are aware of the impact they have on their victim.

How to deal with dark sides of social media? There is not any real solutions for fighting with hate speech. Observation and vigilance seem to be good answers to the threats of online activity. Social media can give us a lot of good - to get to know interesting people, effective promotional activities or to get inspiration, but can also bring a lot of bad - offensive memes, harassment, thoughtlessness, inattention or hate speech. Let's not forget that we are not anonymous on the web and that our jokes and offensive statements can affect someone more than we thought. In some situations, we should treat social media with a grain of salt, but there are also moments when we should keep our eyes wide open. There are situations in which crossing the border seems obvious. Making fun of someone's illness, unhappiness, death, racial or religious affiliation is unacceptable, and all attempts to make fun of the above-mentioned reasons should be stigmatized. In social media, the solution may be to submit pages containing this type of 'jokes' to the administration, whose duty is to verify the complaint, block the page or possibly punish its author.

Works Cited

  • Cawley, Conor. The Tumultuous Relationship Between Social Media and Hate Speech. 8 January 2018.
  • Chmielewski, Dawn C. Facebook Reports Progress In Cracking Down On Hate Speech, Other Violations. 15 November 2018.
  • Diem, Noel. Freedom of Speech and Social Media. 10 December 2014.
  • Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger. 'On Instagram, 11,696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media.' The New York Times 29 October 2018: 1.
  • Star, Sudbury. 'Social media boycott would be wrong tactic.' Sudbury Star; Sudbury, Ont. 30 July 2018.
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