It often seems as though the Internet’s best features are also its worst. Take, for example, the fact that it’s widely accessible and enables people from all walks of life to connect and share ideas. In many ways, this is one of the best things about the Internet, as it can lead to a sense of global unity which was previously unattainable and unimaginable. Yet, while most people use social media to network with friends and spread love, unfortunately, there are also those who use it to spread hate.
Hate speech on social media is a serious problem which can have devastating effects. One of the reasons hate speech can be so prevalent online is because it is, at times, difficult to define. People also often get caught walking the fine line between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’, which can become all the more complicated in online environments which lack the same cues and nuances of conventional speech. Yet, in the broadest terms, hate speech can be defined as being any form of communication that disparages people on the basis of their race, religion, gender, ability, or sexual orientation .
“Hate speech, as defined by the Council of Europe, covers all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.”
While hate speech on social media is widely prohibited under most sites’ terms and conditions, these regulatory measures are typically reactive rather than preventative, relying on other users to report the content. As a result, certain hate groups have nonetheless embraced social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube, “valuing their ability to quickly and inexpensively reach and recruit new members”  before the content is flagged, reported, or removed. Furthermore, while in most countries hate speech is a punishable crime, the Internet transcends borders, and legalities are often complicated by things such as where a website is hosted.
“We live in a confusing world. In some ways we seem to be coming closer together. For (those) with access to information highways or satellite television, it is possible to be in contact with the other side of the planet in seconds. But nearer to home the distances between us are increasing. We do not enjoy our multicultural societies as we could: as a phenomenon which enriches us with diversity and which we should not allow ourselves to waste.”
The Impact Of Seeing Hate Speech On Social Media
Witnessing or receiving hate speech on social media is an upsetting experience for anyone, but young people are particularly vulnerable to its effect. “Young people cannot make sense of their own position and gain knowledge and mastery of it without an understanding of both the international and national circumstances that shape their world.”
Children are still developing the cognitive capacity to critically analyse new information, which makes them more susceptible to the impact of hate speech; while also making them more susceptible to accepting the unqualified information they encounter online as general truths.
A 2016 report conducted by Ofcom found that many children aged 8-to-15 are ‘too trusting’ in Google; “Only a minority of 8-11s (24%) and 12-15s (38%) who use search engines correctly identified sponsored links on Google as advertising. This reflects a continued uncertainty around information on search engines, with many assuming there is some kind of human fact checker behind the algorithm, and 28% of 8-11s and 27% of 12-15s assuming that if Google lists a website, then they can trust it”. In addition, more than a quarter of 8-15-year-olds who used a search engine said that if the US firm listed a link then they believed its contents could be relied on.
In the age of social media, the spreading of misinformation, or ‘fake news’, is a growing problem, which becomes particularly insidious when those messages incite hate for others.
According to the founder-director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Osama Manzar, “social media plays a critical role in creating and spreading hate speech, and has been used numerous times for promoting communal and religious hate speech with a clear agenda of provoking violence”.
5 Things To Do If Your Child Sees Hate Speech On Social Media
According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, a high proportion of young Australians have encountered inappropriate or hateful content online. Of Australian children aged 12-to-17-years-of-age:
57% have seen real violence online which disturbed them
56% have seen racist comments online
53% have seen or heard hateful comments about religious or cultural groups online
Targets of hate speech on social media include:
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders
Here are 5 things you can do if your child encounters hate speech on social media or the Internet:
1. Encourage your child to tell you about any inappropriate content they come across on social media and then work together to make a complaint/report the content to the site administrators and/or the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. You should reassure your child that their access to the Internet will not be taken away if they tell you about seeing hate speech or inappropriate content.
2. Limit their exposure to further hate speech by monitoring their online activities where possible; download parental controls such as Wangle Family Insites that enable you to reduce their risk of exposure to unsuitable or illegal sites. If your child is active on social media, ensure their profile is private and they only network with close friends and family.
3. Teach your child how to use search engines to locate reliable and reputable sources of information. For younger children, you may want to consider developing a list of favourites.
4. Talk openly with your child about how human beings are all different in many ways. Discuss the fact that people can be identified according to their gender, age, physical characteristics, sexual orientation, personality, hobbies, a standard of living, or beliefs. Try to explain that – despite what some people may say – even though we are all different, we are all equal.
5. If you’re worried about your child, you may want to seek professional advice or additional support through counselling and crisis support services. You can try:
eHeadspace—1800 650 890 (for 12-25-year-olds)
Kids Helpline—1800 55 1800 (for 5-25-year-olds)
Lifeline—13 11 14 (for crisis support and suicide prevention)
Beyond Blue—1300 22 4636 (for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention)
1800 Respect—1300 737 732 (for sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling)
counselling through your local GP or community health service
The eSafety Office can investigate complaints about content that may be illegal or prohibited. Report this content to esafety.gov.au/reportillegalcontent.
Most Australian states and territories also have laws prohibiting criminal defamation and various unlawful uses of technology. If you feel a law has been broken, you may want to contact the local authorities. Bear in mind that, for police to investigate whether a crime has been committed, evidence is usually required. This may include screenshots or website addresses.
1. #DefyHateNow, 2016. Introduction to hate speech on social media
2. Media Smarts, n.d. Online hate and free speech.
3. Ofcom, 2016. Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2016
4. Osama Manzar, 2018. Hate speech and the role of social media
5. Directorate of Youth and Sport, Council of Europe, 2016. Education Pack “all different – all equal”