Talking back: Taking on the haters
March 11, NY: To venture online and outside of your carefully tailored network of like-minded people can be to expose yourself to what seems like an ever-rising tide of hateful language.
For social media users living in or simply interested in the Middle East, as battles viciously rage on in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, happening upon hostile sectarian discourse online has become virtually unavoidable.
For women, Twitter has proven to be an especially unforgiving platform, with reports of high-profile women quitting the platform in the face of vitriolic tweets. Of course, the abuse is not just limited to Twitter, and prominent figures aren't alone in the face of it.
Homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and other forms of discriminatory speech are also prevalent online, leading many to view the Internet as a petri-dish designed to nurture hatred, one that must be monitored and controlled.
But determining what speech should not be protected by the right to freedom of expression – what some refer to as 'hate speech' - is not an easy task. There is no universally accepted definition of it in international human rights law. States vary in defining and responding to it; often exploitatively and with disastrous results. Internet intermediaries, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, take it upon themselves to police it according to their own judgment. The free expression community constantly debates its parameters. In spite of the common refrain that we must fight speech with more speech, there is an over-reliance on censoring it. And often, it is dealt with in isolation, without looking at the deeper issues behind it.
While social media can amplify the most polarizing voices, it also offers opportunities to tackle discriminatory and dangerous speech in a manner that encourages debate and protects free speech. After all, if left unchallenged or forced underground, hatred festers, endures and grows.
Below are several examples of truly innovative civil society initiatives designed and implemented by individuals and communities most affected by discrimination and violence. In rejecting censorship as a truly effective means of tackling hateful language, these initiatives present a strong case for counterspeech; a concept strongly advocated for by many of the leading thinkers on the issue.
The Oslo Times