Standing Up to Hate Speech

In recent times the media has drawn our attention to hate speech which was broadcast on a social media platform in Australia by a recognised and by some people, a celebrated person for his rugby skills. Such vitriol levelled against others based on their sexual identity, religion, gender, race or ethnicity is easily accessed or viewed by children and young people on all forms of media: digital, print and television.

“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 the internet didn’t create hate speech it has most certainly provided platforms for people to have their hateful ideas amplified and broadcast to a wide audience with some tech companies experiencing the profits that come with connected and engaged audiences despite the offensiveness of the views. 

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”.

The line between hate speech and free speech is a thin one which is why we need to equip children and young people to understand what hate speech is, why it’s hurtful, what to do when they are exposed to it and what to do if they feel compelled to join in.  Children are still developing the cognitive capacity to critically analyse new information, which makes them more susceptible to the impact of hate speech and accepting the unqualified information they encounter online as general truths.

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 

According to Media Smarts, ‘the best way to help young people deal with hate online is to prepare them for it before they encounter it. This means doing two things: helping them to recognise and decode hate and teaching them how to confront and respond to it.’

Children and young people need to be taught ‘how to think critically about all the media they consume so that they can recognize hate in all its forms. Teaching young people about the ways that hate groups communicate their messages can help alert them to “red  flags” that show that someone is trying to manipulate them.’

For parents, it’s finding those moments where you can reiterate your family’s values such as compassion, tolerance, respectful communication and empathy towards others that will help their children fight online hate. Common Sense Media provides a list of websites and apps that offer stories of interest, serious events and general news in more child-friendly language. They provide an opportunity for parents to discuss how news is reported,  how to be a critical media consumer and how to identify legitimate news sources.

The eSafety Office can investigate complaints about content that may be illegal or prohibited. Report this content to

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