Hate Speech Monitoring for Atrocity Prevention in South Sudan
The internet and social media sites have given individuals the ability to reach a global audience. One person can now influence the world with just one tweet, video or post. Most times, that power is used to share information or just to talk with other people. However, social media has also become an easy way to spread rumors and dangerous speech.
Hate Speech Defined
Hate speech is defined as speech that can incite others to discriminate or act against individuals or groups based on their ethnic, racial, religious, gender, or national identity.
Hate Speech in South Sudan
Since achieving independence in 2011, South Sudan continues to experience periods of violent conflict. As a result, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions of refugees have fled the country. Many areas of South Sudan are also suffering from famine. Meanwhile, hateful language shared online has continued to divide South Sudan, often by ethnic group. The messages, often spread by diaspora communities, have helped fuel violence and revenge attacks. Violent events are often linked to social media conversations taking place before, during and after the violent incidents.
For example, the term “MTN” has been used on social media to convey hate directed against Dinkas. MTN refers to the mobile phone company with the slogan “everywhere you go.” The slogan links to the perception that Dinkas are land-grabbers and have disproportionate control of the national government. Therefore, Dinkas are perceived to be “everywhere you go.”In October 2016, the term was used to identify Dinkas for attacks on some of the major roadways in the Equatorian states.
Another example of hateful language is the use of the word “coward.” Calling someone a “coward” makes victims feel humiliated, which leads them to consider revenge. The term has been used recently by victims of violence to refer to rebels who target civilians rather than armed combatants. Also, many social media users claim the government only negotiates with people who are armed but not with “cowards” who want to bring change through dialogue.
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HATE SPEECH AND FREE SPEECH
Combating hate speech is not the same as limiting freedom of expression. Free speech reflects human nature, and people have the right to discuss issues and express their opinions. Many people use social media as a platform to share their views on political and social issues happening around the world.
However, there is a difference between free speech and abuse. Hate speech can be defined as making a statement or sharing information in which a group of people is threatened, insulted or degraded. It can also show a clear intention to be hurtful or to incite harm.
Context is important when considering whether something is hate speech. A social media post could include words that are hateful but are actually describing the problem rather than adding to it. People can use terms that one group finds hateful but another uses to identify themselves. Also, someone could not use any slurs at all, but still create speech that is abusive or violent. Even language that isn’t hateful but refers negatively to a particular group can contribute to increasing violence once it has already started.
HATE SPEECH AROUND THE WORLD
The spread of hateful messages on social media and the resulting violence isn’t just happening in South Sudan.
There have been many ongoing public calls in Myanmar to hate and even kill Muslims. Religious tension in the country has repeatedly transitioned into violence. The unrest has been blamed in part on anti-Muslim language spread by radical Buddhist monks via social media and elsewhere.
In Kenya, politicians have used social networks as a platform to spread propaganda in public hate campaigns. Social networks are full of threats and messages of hatred between members of different ethnic groups. A series of politically motivated hate attacks have resulted in many deaths in the country.
In South Africa, hate speech spread on social media has led to many deadly attacks. In the online posts, South Africans are blamed for crimes against non-South Africans. The country’s police have arrested hundreds in Pretoria as the anti-immigrant protests turned violent. Many people have been killed because of the ongoing xenophobia.
SOCIAL MEDIA - Privacy and Policies
Statements made on social media are public, even if the user is only following family and friends or has a private account. Social media platforms have recognized the hate speech that has occurred and have taken steps to prevent it. Their sites list their policies on what is acceptable free speech.
On its website, Twitter writes that the company believes in freedom of expression. However, to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, the platform does not “tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.”
The company says you cannot use Twitter to make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not “incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others” or promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and other categories.
According to YouTube, there is “a fine line between what is and what is not considered to be hate speech. For instance, it is generally okay to criticize a nation-state, but not okay to post malicious hateful comments about a group of people solely based on their ethnicity.”
Facebook states on its website that these kinds of attacks are also not allowed. “We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them.”
Organizations and people dedicated to promoting hatred against these protected groups are not allowed to have a presence on Facebook.
How to Counter Hate Speech
The resources included on this site in "Training Modules" identify examples of hate language and the context which makes it hateful, fake news that promotes violence, and how you can report this content directly to the social media sites.
Combating hate speech starts with you. Be sure to not share hateful ideas and messages through social networks. It is important to recognize when someone is purposely trying to encourage violence. Don’t be tricked into spreading the post further. You can voice your opinions without harmful language or anger.
Peaceful communication will be key to ending the violence inflamed by hateful messaging on social media. Violent conflict will be less likely to occur when social media users are more thoughtful about what they share. We all benefit if we create an environment where everybody is able to express their opinions without experiencing hate speech.