Hate speech is something that people face on a daily basis, either offline or online. Hateful ideology, sadly, is gaining more and more space in the online platforms, compiling a main matter that needs to be solved. Online hate speech is a type of speech that provokes hatred and takes place in the cyberspace. It can be expressed through fake news, memes, toxic narratives and social bots. It can equally provoke social injustice and rising of hate as verbal hate speech. It is not rare at all, online platforms and public forums to get full of racist, sexist and homophobic comments, attacking communities and individuals. We could call it bullying or cyberbullying. But sometimes online hate speech acquires a more massive form. It becomes bigger and more accessible to the viewers through hashtags, Insta-stories, live-videos, even disguised and overt accounts that promote hate, insults and abusive or threatening behavior.
Especially now that -either strict or loose- lockdowns became our new reality -let’s hope not for long, though-, the exposure to this kind of things online is remarkably larger. Many users of social media, and mostly young people, get even more exposed to this type of promotion of violence and support of injustice. According to a survey of L1ght -a Israeli startup which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect and filter harmful online content to protect children- after analyzing millions of websites, popular teen chat sites, and gaming platforms recorded a 900% increase in hate speech directed towards the Chinese and a 40% rise in online toxicity among teens and children [https://l1ght.com/Toxicity_during_coronavirus_Report-L1ght.pdf].
One of the biggest examples of online hate speech is the spread of QAnon; a movement among president Trump’s supporters, which propagates a viral conspiracy theory. According to this theory, many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials are members to a large cabal of pedophiles and Donald Trump is the savior who will rescue America from this conspiracy [if you are interested in watching more about QAnon, follow this link from Guardian News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYZBxH4I_GA]. QAnon’s expansion is mainly based on hashtags, comments, videos and speeches that were given on social media from its supporters. Through these “tools”, its theories and beliefs became wide popular, since people got to know more details about it, as well as interact with it through this “game” of finding clues that could incriminate celebrities around the online network.
Internet itself might played a great role to the spread of these ideas. However, the main fact that assisted this shadow civil war to get radicalized in US, was the corona crisis. It would be predictable and not surprising at all, the fact that during the lockdown’s restrictions people turned to the screens, spending more time on social networks than before. The use of communication and social apps was increased, reaching new numbers. The power that internet gained during the pandemic was extreme, making social networks take over and influence a lot of viewers around the world.
One of the most popular -if not the most popular- video-sharing social networking app, TikTok, has been a gate of online hate speech. The app was criticized in August by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an Anti-Semitic organization based in US. ADL accused extremists to have taken over TikTok and Instagram uploading racists and aggressive content by using a range of methods. Many extremist and supremacist TikTok and/or Instagram accounts use a variety of techniques, such as hashtags and voice over videos, in order to recruit new adherents. One of their methods is using cryptic hashtags including symbols such as “kuuklixklan”, “4d0lfH1t13r”, “N4z1”, or numbers, like “14” to represent a popular white supremacist slogan, “2316” the numeric symbol for “white power,” “88” to represent “Heil Hitler” and “13/52” which is shorthand reference to a racist claim about Black Americans. In TikTok certain people used voice overs of PewDiePie saying “Death to all Jews. I want you to say after me, death to all Jews. And you know, Hitler was right. I’ve really opened my eyes to white power, and I think it’s time we did something about it.”. [buy the way, PewDiePie got himself in real trouble for saying all this stuff; if you want to learn more information about that, watch the following video posted by Wall Street Journal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFY7mGkmFxo]. The summary of ADL accusing extremists of taking control of social media by posting hateful messages and of social media accepting this activity, is that the online platforms are full of hate speech content and both social media and the users should take the situation under consideration [to read the whole article of ADL, click here https://www.adl.org/blog/extremists-are-using-a-range-of-techniques-to-exploit-tiktok].
Recently, TikTok renewed its policy, banning messages and accounts that implicate hateful ideologies. Videos and hashtags that contain racist or aggressive purport were deleted. Specifically, TikTok committed to remove content of hate speech, slurs, hateful ideology, abusive behavior and bullying etc. However, the app may have deleted several of hashtags and content including hateful or extreme messages, but at the same time multiple tags had found their way to the viewers. Many -on purpose- misspelled tags slipped under TikTok’s radar and achieved to survive for some period of time until the app detects them and subtract them [read the relevant article here, https://www.mediamatters.org/qanon-conspiracy-theory/spread-conspiracy-theory-about-trumps-covid-19-diagnosis-show-why-tiktok].
Online hate speech might seem not serious on the screens, like just some online crazy talk. But the sad truth is that this crazy talk is jumping to the streets and it could be really dangerous in real life. The thing with online speech is that removing the accounts, or the tags might be efficient, but for how long? What we are really dealing with is the content itself, it is what people have to say and why they are filled with so much anger and hatred. Only by taking this situation seriously we will be able to see a change; by spotting the methods that online hate speech uses, by helping the children and young people to be in control of cyber environment and get less influenced by it, by giving them the best possible education and information about this matter.