Hate speech in media increased in the Arab world after the Arab Spring. It’s a fact! A report titled “إني أكرهك” (I hate you) from the journalist and researcher Waleed Hosni Zahra shows how this discourse of incitement made its way from the media to the social platforms (Facebook primarily). Here is a shocking number: 90% (and more) was the proportion of widespread hate speech in the Tunisian newspapers, TVs, and Radios according to this report released in 2013. Unfortunately, no similar studies have been conducted recently to say if this insight dropped or not.
Hate speech and Cyberbullying have been widely researched and discussed in European and North American countries for decades. In contrast, the matter is a more recent phenomenon in the Arab world and the studies about it are difficult to find, and this implies that we, Arabs, are downplaying the problem. Worse, insults and verbal abuse online have often become “normal” and “acceptable”. A research made by Social Psychological and Personality Science (SPPS) indicates that people react less strongly to malicious speech on digital platforms and consider the victims as less “harmed” than if insults were said directly to them.
Wait for a second! Is this mean behavior part of freedom of speech? Are Arabs aware of what is bullying on social media? A bunch of questions needs to be answered and I’ll try on this blog post to provide more clarifications based on what I’m learning from my overall experience in Community Management.
Arabs And Hate Speech On Social Media!
Have a look at those tweets below and tell me (in the comments section) what do you think: If those hatred comments were addressed to you, what would you do? Do you let this go just because they look like fake accounts or you would act against? And how would you act?
“A Ditch the Label and Brandwatch” report analyzed almost 19 million tweets over a four-year period and concluded that responding to trolls may escalate conflicts and there was a very minimal probability of a positive outcome when engaging a conversation with trollers as shown in the chart below:
Credit: Cyberbullying and Hate Speech Report – 2016
Cyberbullying, trolls or online abuse… All these terms may come under the umbrella of hate speech even though many psychologists separate hate speech from the words above by saying:
“If you’re being directly messaged by someone who is saying nasty things about your appearance, that’s not considered hate speech, it comes under the umbrella of bullying or online abuse. Hate speech is when somebody says something which attacks a person or group of people on the basis of their race, religion, gender..etc”
Here is the problem: if someone calls somebody else “Ya Kafer!” (which means miscreant or disbeliever) long enough, you might end up treating this person or group as if there were really “Kuffar” (disbelievers)! And when enough people listen to that, it can have awful consequences. This is the power of words, the power of propaganda!
Those accounts (fake or not) spreading hate speech might be acting solo but can also be led by governments or parties to shut down opponents. Those accounts are called electronic army (the most common term in Arabic is “الذباب الإلكتروني” which means literally “electronic flies”). Their mission? Is to harass, threaten and stop those who don’t speak favorably of their governments or parties.
1 in 4 adults globally have still never heard of cyberbullying. In a study conducted by Ipsos, carried out in 28 countries to gauge awareness about this mean behavior, Saudi Arabia was the unique Arab nation among those countries and had the lowest awareness about cyberbullying.
And I’m quite sure that the other Arab countries are not so much better than the Saudis in this ranking and it’s really sad to see how inattentive and negligent we are to cyberbullying.
I’ve interviewed Haythem El Mekki, a Tunisian journalist, and asked him how he copes personally with Cyberbullying, and luckily, he came up with a valid point that I didn’t think about which is “Distortion”. What is “distortion? Find more details in this video below:
Hate online may cause death!
A study made by researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Swansea, and Birmingham which involved more than 150,000 young people aged under 25 across 30 countries, found that cyberbullying raised the risk of self-harm or suicidal behavior 2.3 times.
“Girl, kill yourself!”.. “You are so ugly”.. “Why are you still alive?” Those hurtful and tormenting messages where addressed to an American twelve-year-old girl on her social media accounts, Rebecca Sedwick, they ultimately led her to suicide. This is one of the multiple incidents related to cyberbullying (and bullying in general) and terrific stories about children hanging themselves in their bedrooms after being told the world would be a better place without them.
Trisha Prabhu, an 18-year-old girl, invented Rethink, an app that detects and stops online hate at the source. Basically, when you install it and you’re about to publish a text or a comment on social media or send an SMS message, the software detects bad words included in your message and asks you: “Would you post this message?”.. If you say yes, then it asks you again: “This message may be hurtful to others, are you sure you want to post this?”
And it worked! Trisha found that over 93% of the time adolescents changed their minds when you give them a chance to re-think about what they are typing. She has been honored as a 2014 Google Science Fair Global Finalist for her work on this Rethink app.
This is a very good example of how we can act individually against hate online, but who’s going to install this app to get those annoying messages when you’re posting something on social media? Maybe for parents to hold back their kids from annoying other kids.
NetzDG, one of the toughest laws in its kind in the world, the new German law compels social media companies to remove hate speech within 24 hours otherwise they could be fined up to 50 million euros! But a number of deletions and suppressions after the implementation of this law have sparked controversy on freedom of speech in Germany.
Well, then how could we declare the war on hate online without touching to freedom of speech? I’ve been talking to Sue Jones, Deputy CEO at Ditch the Label to discuss the difference between hate speech and freedom of speech:
Some people might say: “We don’t have even freedom of speech in most Arab countries to talk about online hate speech! Let’s focus on defending the right of free speech first!” but I think personally that focusing on that doesn’t exclude the other. What do you think? Please share your thoughts here in the comments section and tell me how can we combat hate online and cyberbullying.