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#CultConvos

YOUTH AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ARE WE LOSING THE INTERNET TO THE CULTURE OF HATE?

- Dega Ramya Tulasi ( Incoming board member, Indian Youth Cafe)



As an educator and peace practitioner, I believe that any definition of hate-based or rather online hate speech is an expression of the individual regardless of offensiveness that broadly categorises the specific group of people based on malignant, qualitative and subjective to many attributes and these attributes can pertain to beliefs or religion, nationality, ethnicity, class or economic status, specially-abled community, diverse sexuality and many more. Hate speech can be seen as an early warning indicator in conjunction with other aspects that we find are normally used for example misinformation and hate speech are always used interchangeably. Hate speech, misinformation and a lot of these phenomena aren’t necessarily new it’s just that the coordination and the manifestation of these are different when online unlike in nazi Germany or the Armenian genocide and at that time the rate of dissemination probably required a lot of infrastructures and stakeholders coming in together and people had to have more financial resources but now the rate of dissemination online is much faster thanks to social media and it’s also very difficult to identify the source of hate speech or misinformation.



To be clear, there are a lot of technical challenges when it comes to tracking and monitoring hate speech. There is no strong understanding of the relationship between the offline and the online world. There is also a strong linguistic coverage that is a huge challenge because there are different dialects and what might seem offensive in one particular regional context/ terminology might not be offensive in another context. When we look at understanding hate speech we firmly believe that online communities have a right and legal responsibility to moderate user activity and ensure fair treatment of users but we also think that ostracization also has a blurred line because we don't have a universal definition, particularly for the online hate speech. If we look at hate speech from a content and a linguistic aspect a lot of ostracization of unpopular speech in the developing world is seen or labelled as hate speech so many of them have been incredibly broad and they are also used domestically to suppress the opposition of speeches. In another context allowing discriminatory content to proliferate in the online mediums silences the marginalized voices which is a form of censorship.


Hate speech is very contextual as it depends on many factors like two or more people who are talking to each other or it can be between two or many different tribes or between a minority group and a majority group or two or more religious communities so it’s very contextual and specific in nature and a few terminologies which were accepted 40 years ago now seem to be offensive for the people in general. As time changed the outlook of hate speech also changed and it is rather more complex and exclusively broad in context and practicality now.


We as young people are always on the side of education and counter-messaging or countering online hate speech with humour and on the other hand also promptly advocating for conflict - mitigation approaches, intergenerational and interfaith dialogues rather than censorship because in my opinion censorship might not be the most effective way and it can reinforce the belief of a lot of people who are in the field of propagating hateful content. As online content continues to grow, so does the spread of hate speech. While the ability to freely express oneself is a human right that should be cherished but inducing the spread of hate towards another group is an abuse of this liberty and the evolution of social media has created a new paradigm of communication and interactions among all age groups from different parts of the world. Most of us are present on social media but do we care about our privacy and monitor our social media settings properly? Mostly no, but here is some information that can help you protect your data and ensure your safety online:


  1. Creating strong passwords and changing them once in a while should be the primary option to ensure the privacy of your information.

  2. We need to be sensitive, aware, and mindful of what we upload/share on our social networking accounts and avoid sharing personal information that may help perpetrators target or use them for any illegal purposes.

  3. Use security and privacy options provided by social media platforms viz: 2-factor authentication system for access control.

  4. We need to be smart using the internet and avoid visiting untrusted websites; referral links to visit websites are never to be clicked that can put your personal information at risk; instead, type in the browser’s URL address.

  5. Care needs to be taken to accept friend requests only from people we know and block those who post upsetting content or comments.

  6. Make sure to have knowledge or awareness of the rules, regulations, and policies of different social media platforms.

  7. If you receive any hate comments or abusive comments make sure to report to the concerned social media platform team as soon as you can.

  8. Do not open any random links that seem to be unsafe and random payment links without your knowledge. Be sure to ask your friends before you open the links just to be sure that you are not falling into any unnecessary trap.

Using or not using social media platforms is your individual choice but making sure to be aware and having little knowledge on how to protect your personal information and data privacy should be a priority for any young person at the present time.


As a young person advocating for peace, compassion and love do I feel safe online?


Perhaps not so positive would be my answer. I am an active person on social media. So, observing my profile on various social media platforms one of my dear friends shared his concern by saying that “If you are on social media then your peace is gone forever because the world will know everything about you and this includes the perpetrators as well from all corners of the world so be ready to face the consequences if you're choosing to be present on social media.” Without a second thought, I totally agree with his point.


As a young person who is still sharing this on social media platforms, I don't feel 100% positive or safe online but I still, wish to be present online because it's my choice to network and socialise with friends in different parts of the world. So, by staying on social media are we cautiously keeping our identity at risk. Maybe, yes we are.


Speaking, writing, and advocating on taboo and less discussed topics like menstrual health and hygiene, periods, positive mental health, cross border conversations on building friendly and peaceful relations with young people from across the world has been my contestant effort from the time I'm on any social media platform. So, to be true I have been on frequent target of hate comments, discrimination/ intolerance in my family or friends, or social circles both online and offline. Trying to tackle all the criticism and reflect compassion/ positivity and stand up to make a difference is sometimes the hard part of social life that most of us go through.


I know that as a reader you might have encountered similar situations in your close circles and it is up to you as an individual how wisely you use the social media platforms to express your views and perspectives. The internet isn’t as private as we wish it could be, so it’s important to be cautious and safe where we can. So let's all be mindful of sharing the content in a compassionate, inclusive and humble way and at the same time making sure to take care of our personal mental health and wellbeing while being present on social media platforms.


*The Author of the blog is currently a fellow at The Safe Digital Space Research Fellowship by The Dignity in Difference Project. The views expressed are personal and are a small part of her learnings from the fellowship.
Disclaimer: The artwork and reflections produced are not intended to disregard or target any community/ youth groups/ religious beliefs/ any formal or informal organizations/ any other individual's perception. The content is purely an observation of the author as a peacebuilder in the phase of learning to ensure safe spaces for youth.




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