“Haters gonna hate” the American singer Taylor Swift sings in her song “Shake it off”. But hate speech cannot simply be “shaken off”. No matter whether analog or digital, hate speech is a violation of human dignity.
Hate speech can affect anyone. It can be directed against individuals or entire groups. It is about abuse, insult, libel, slander, threats or incitement of the people. For this reason, hate speech is an important topic for today’s political and social education. But what is hate speech and what can be done about it?
Where does Hate Speech start?
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on hate speech back in 1997. It contains a definition of hate speech, which is mostly referred to in connection with the topic. Accordingly, the term hate speech includes “any form of expression which propagates, incites, encourages, promotes or justifies racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including intolerance, expressed in the form of aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, immigrants and people with a migrant background”.
Hate speech must not be seen as an exclusive online phenomenon. However, the disinhibitory effect and the ability to reach as large an audience as possible quickly makes the Internet a popular platform for hate speech.
Hate speech can express itself directly, e.g. through concrete call for violence, and indirectly, e.g. through the spreading of untruths. A distinction is made between several contents, victim groups, patterns and methods of hate speech.
Hate speech expresses itself in different content-related and linguistic patterns. The content-related patterns include the deliberate spreading of false reports and conspiracy theories, the strengthening of stereotypes, a (generalizing) equation, but also the call for acts of violence or dehumanization. The linguistic patterns of hate speech are offences in disparaging comments, strikingly colorful language and the clear juxtaposition of “us” versus “them”.
Hate speech is published on different communication platforms. This can range from blogs, online forums and social networking sites to dedicated hate sites. They are even more direct in the form of emails and/or private messages. In addition, hate speech can also appear in online games, music and videos.
Hate speech deliberately uses words and images to belittle and exclude other people. Fear is often fueled in a targeted manner, which can make children more insecure. Fear or rejection can thus be intensified. Aggression can arise against those who belong to a discredited group described through prejudices.
Art. Article 5 (1) of the Basic Law protects freedom of expression. However, this protection is lifted if it violates the dignity of another person (cf. Art. 1 GG). Therefore, hate comments must not be ignored on the internet. Criminal contents such as slander, insults and incitement to hatred are not covered by freedom of expression.
People are affected by hate speech in very different ways. Raising young people's awareness of the topic can above all mean respectful and appreciative interaction with each other. Anyone dealing with hate speech on the internet should therefore not only impart media literacy, but should also be informed about discriminatory structures in life offline. Fighting racist and inhuman voices is therefore a task for society as a whole.
The UNESCO study identifies four initiatives against hate speech (see UNESCO 2015,16):
– early warning systems for the identification of hate speech,
– coordination of (inter)national coalitions,
– stronger reactions from social networks and service providers,
– promoting media literacy to prepare users for the interpretation of and response to hate speech.
However, since people who are committed to fighting hate speech can become targets as well, young people should also take care themselves and protect their own safety when offering “counter speech”.
Campaigns and initiatives to combat hate on the net
No Hate Speech Movement
The aim of the Council of Europe’s pan-European campaign is to take an offensive stance against Internet agitation, develop counter-strategies and support those affected.
For freedom of expression - against agitation on the Internet
The appeal of the North Rhine-Westphalia State Institute for Media (LfM) against discrimination and agitation is aimed in particular at the operators of social media to meet their responsibilities more effectively than before.
The platform for young people provides support in solving Internet-related problems such as cyberbullying or violence online and provides information on risks associated with current internet phenomena.
Read more in the “Responsibility” dossier