Hate Speech against Refugees in Social Media

by debate dehate

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In order to actively oppose racist hate speech, it is necessary to create an awareness for racist statements, so as to identify these as such. Basically, refugees are collectively disparaged in hate speech, invariably conjoined with social discrimination. Abuse of refugees, in most cases combined with racist (and quite often sexist or anti-semitic) prejudices, is a relatively obvious feature of hate speech. In most cases, emotional hatred is packaged as rational argumentation. Hate speech instrumentalizes incorrect information, such as “refugees exploit welfare systems”. Indirect hate speech often appears harmless at first glance, but ultimately legitimates racism and violence against refugees, e.g. “The right to asylum needs abolishing” (Article 16a of the German constitution guarantees asylum as a basic right: “Victims of political persecution shall have the right to asylum.”) Frequent forms of racist hate speech against refugees are:

● Contrasting “us” and “them”
● Generalizations (“all refugees …”) and blanket attributions (e.g. refugee = Muslim)
● Normalization of discriminatory attitudes: “It’s no wonder that …”
● Projecting onto “refugees” problems involving all of society like sexism, criminality or housing shortage
● Pejorative designations like “economic migrant” suggest that the fundamental right to asylum here is being exploited by people who are coming to Germany solely for financial reasons, not because they are seeking refuge from persecution.
● Dehumanization: equating refugees with insects, parasites, animals, etc.
● Lies about refugees and alleged criminality, violence, rapes, forged official papers – often disguised as an alleged personal experience.
● Cultural racism (“They simply don’t fit in here”)
● (Nationalistic) relativizations: what about “our” children / homeless, etc.?
● Soon we’ll feel like strangers in our own country / “our way of life is doomed”
● The establishment / the mendacious press – never tell us the truth anyway
● Anyone who helps refugees is a do-gooder, or quite probably a left-wing extremist.
● So am I to be labeled a Nazi just because I … / where is my own freedom of speech if you delete my comments?

A1. Reporting

The guidelines of many social networks lay down that users must not release or publish any materials that incite hatred towards groups by reason of their ethnic origins, nationality, religion, disabilities, age, gender or their sexual orientation. This also includes racist hate speech against refugees, which can be reported. A report will usually be processed within two days, and frequently within a few hours.

Reports are always treated as confidential. The person being reported will never find out who reported him/her.
The reporting function on Facebook will differ, depending on what kind of content you wish to report. The basic principle involved, however, is that next to the list of contents you will find an “Option” button, under which the reporting function is located. Information:

Experience has shown that it is more successful to directly report the specific contents concerned, rather than the entire profile or pages.
You can check the status of your report in the support mailbox, where you also have an option for rating the handling of your report. If deletion of the content concerned is rejected, you can give a negative rating to the way your report has been handled, and then write your feedback. For example, you can describe the facts of the case once again in more detail, and thus trigger a renewed investigation of the case.
Please note: all networks provide an option for reporting a post. In most cases, the buttons for reporting will be located in the post concerned itself. Sometimes, one or two more clicks have to be performed. Since the reporting procedure on the platforms changes regularly, only the basic principles involved are covered here. You will find the current, detailed status on our website: http://www.amadeu-antonio-stiftung. de/onlinehetze/

A2. Filing a criminal complaint

The basic principle involved here is this: what is a criminal offense offline is also a criminal offense online, and can be the subject of a criminal complaint. It must be remembered in this context that a criminal prosecution is often a slow process, which is ill-matched to the dynamic nature of the internet, and does not offer immediate assistance. In Germany, freedom of speech enjoys particular protection under Article 5 of the country’s constitution. This also means that opinions which you do not share and definitively reject have to be tolerated from a legal standpoint. So filing a criminal complaint is a viable option only when the post concerned is an offense under criminal law. But even if you’re not quite sure: it’s better to file one complaint too many than one too few.

Sedition (§ 130 of the German Criminal Code)
Anyone who incites people to hatred of refugees or other sections of the populace, who calls for violent measures against them or maliciously disparages them may be committing sedition, which is a criminal offense. Not every ostracizing insult or discrimination, such as “Refugees not wanted”, is a criminal offense. A relatively clear case of sedition will presumptively be involved if National Socialist violence is trivialized or approved.

Symbols of unconstitutional organizations (§ 86a of the German Criminal Code)
Nor is it permissible to use symbols of unconstitutional organizations. These include not only the swastika and various runes, plus greetings like “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil”, but also the lyrics and tune of the Horst Wessel Song.

Rewarding and endorsing criminal acts (§ 140 of the German Criminal Code)
It is also an offense under criminal law to endorse criminal acts, insofar as this is done publicly, in an assembly, or by disseminating documents – this also subsumes internet comments. The relevant criminal offenses include:murder and manslaughter, arson, but also the formation of terrorist organizations. For example, anyone publicly supporting the violence of neo-Nazi underground movements or endorsing arson attacks on refugee accommodation may be committing a criminal offense

Read more about Filing a criminal complaint in Hate Speech against Refugees in Social Media.

Counter-speech can be an option for actively engaging with the dissemination of anti-refugee and racist prejudices and hate speech in social networks, and for supporting people in their endeavors to get involved in the online debate from a human-rights-based standpoint. Counterspeech is above all important because it constitutes a visible and public objection to racism and hate speech, which creates a counterweight to the perceived dominance of hate speech in discussions, thus exerting a beneficial effect on the course of the conversation. This is because counter-speech is based upon the assumption that an online debate involves not only the discriminators and their victims, but also those who silently read the posts and will make a contribution if they are invited or motivated to do so.

B1. Argumentation strategies

Simply asking questions may be helpful, and sometimes brings about a swift solution. Questions as to interpretation, about examples and facts, and about intentions will sometimes swiftly reveal misunderstandings and give the users concerned an opportunity to check the post themselves and reflect upon it. Often, the alleged knowledge is merely copy & paste, without the source involved having really been read. Asking questions may quite easily inspire counter-argumentation. If after such questioning major issues and discriminatory statements still recur, it is particularly important to consider whether the discriminatory or prejudiced stance is possibly being used to occupy the virtual territory concerned and to create the illusion that the racist mindset is the universally valid one.

Naming and shaming
It is important to name discrimination and dehumanizing statements on the net as such, primarily so as not to allow them to be left as something presumptively “normal”, and mistakenly permit them to appear legitimate. Identify a racist post for what it is: “Do you realize that that was racist?” or rather more confrontationally “That is racist, don’t bother me with it”. It’s helpful in this context to cite the community standards involved.

Fight back with counter-arguments
Encouraging free and frank discussions is more illuminating than mere stigmatization. Try to remain calm and objective in the discussion, and do not be provoked into insulting formulations. What is the thesis that your interlocutor is propounding without its emotional trappings? Demand hard facts instead of sweeping generalizations and emotive language. Point out omissions and errors in the argumentation involved, and check the sources used. Right-wing extremist and other dubious sources should be named.

Recognizing right-wing extremists in discussions on the net
Right-wing extremist movements and protagonists have this in common: they believe in an ideology of inequality, and also disseminate this proactively in the social networks. For them, social networks are a place for dissemination, propaganda, and also recruitment from the socio-political center, which they achieve by projecting an image of “concerned citizenry”. Right-wing extremists collect potential followers in the context of emotionalized issues, e.g. in order to mobilize opposition to a home for refugees in the neighborhood. Very often, the strategically organized right-wing extremist authorship of such sites and discussions is obfuscated. For highly strategic reasons, rightwing extremists like to assume the trappings of middle-class respectability. A special role is played here by right-wing extremist female users, who talk about issues like bringing up children, family and concepts of sexuality, and thus lure other women into right-wing and extremist structures. This is why it is important to discern whether organized Nazis are behind a discussion on the internet. Often this is easier to recognize than you would initially expect. The people involved in the discussion: whom else are they liking?

B2. Deploy facts against prejudices – debunking

One mode of counter-speech is offered by what is called “debunking”. This is a method for exposing and refuting incorrect information or lies in prejudices, myths and convictions by means of facts. Debunking is addressed not only to persons who espouse and disseminate incorrect information, but also to anyone reading who do not yet have a fixed perspective on the issues involved.
Debunking focuses on facts, and therefore requires a certain amount of preparation in order to achieve its full effect. For this purpose, it may prove helpful to network with academic communities, to study reliable academic sources, or to gather information at debunking sites. The aim here is less to provide people with even more information than to expose incorrect information and interpretations, rumors and myths as such, and to replace them by objectively substantiated facts. Useful facts and arguments in the context of refugees can be found, for example, in a brochure entitled “pro menschenrechte. contra vorurteile”, which can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF file:

Quite generally, it must be noted that debunking is not a method that is able to magically make all dehumanizing incorrect information disappear. If an impasse has been reached, it may be better to break off the conversation. Debunking can, however, prove successful if it is aimed at third parties who have not yet formeda coherent worldview. Sometimes objective arguments result in a readiness to engage in meaningful debate. It may prove helpful to request other democratic users to get involved, and to provide argumentational support for users already engaged in a debate.

For debunking, there are certain points that need to be borne in mind if this method is to be successfully deployed:

● Provide the salient facts instead of repeating incorrect information
● Too much information, too many facts tend to overtax the people you are addressing. That’s why for debunking you should concentrate on the most important facts, so that these will be remembered. You should also realize that repeating incorrect information to people may cause them to remember it more clearly than the corrective facts. For this reason, it is best to avoid as far as possible mentioning the incorrect information in your refutation. In the case of texts, the corrective information should be provided in the heading and in the first paragraph.
● If you intend to address incorrect information, this should be preceded by a warning that the information involved is not correct.
● It has to be clearly discernible that the conspiracy-theory-based statements quoted for purposes of debunking them constitute a false perception of the world. Without an unambiguous warning, there is a risk that only the familiar, easily comprehensible incorrect information will be remembered.
● Debunking should not only refute racist and anti-refugee prejudices, myths and convictions, but also offer an alternative explanation, plus a counter-narrative for the events concerned. Incorrect information serves not only for underpinning anti-refugee stances. It also reinforces corresponding dehumanizing prejudices and worldviews. To prevent these narratives from being the only ones to circulate in society, they need to be opposed by alternative narratives. For democratic societies, it is important that opposition be expressed in visible form.

Avoid pitfalls
As the above three comments on debunking already indicate, if inappropriately deployed, debunking may also achieve the opposite of what was originally planned. The problem is exacerbated by the existence of closed worldviews. People whose worldview is crucially determined by dehumanizing ideologies may be reinforced in their convictions by attempts at debunking. The refutations of their incorrect convictions do not simply invalidate the incorrect information, they also threaten their self-image. In order to render these people receptive to debunking, the obvious course is to provide the debunking post with a framework that makes it appear less threatening to the entire dehumanizing worldview of the person being addressed. In this way, the facts contained in your debunking post have a better chance of not being rejected wholesale, and of persuading the person concerned to do some long-term thinking about his/her positions.

C1. Self-protection

Engaging with anti-refugee hate speech and discriminatory statements in the social media can very quickly become stressful – particularly if you are exposed to personal insults and attacks. So taking care of yourself and ensuring appropriate self-protection should not be neglected.

1. Block, block, block
In the social media, there is an option for blocking particular users. Freedom of speech does not mean that you have to listen to racist utterances and attacks. Don’t let anyone tell you that blocking is not ok. All platforms provide you with an option for blocking. To do this, you have to go to the profile page of the person you want to block and then to the settings there. In most cases, the platforms will also provide a list of the accounts you have blocked. There is likewise an option for muting accounts or forcing them to unfollow you by blocking the people concerned and unblocking them again.

2. Protect yourself
Showing moral courage is not entirely riskfree, even online. Right-wing extremists keep lists, in some cases in the public domain, and recurrent threats are a real possibility. So it’s important in cases of doubt to remain anonymous and not to make public any private data, and most certainly not your address.

3. Don’t take insults too personally
Very many attacks have nothing at all to do with you as a person. Instead, what’s involved is a projection. In arguments on social networks, particularly, insults and hate speech are more quickly typed than spoken in the usual way. This does not, of course, change anything about the dehumanizing statements involved, but perhaps it will help to put them more in perspective.

4. Take care of yourself
Engagement in opposing right-wing hate speech is important, but also uses up a lot of energy. So it’s very important to take due care of your own health and in cases of doubt to consider refraining from engaging in a debate. Moral courage is important, but it helps nobody at all if moral courage means your own health suffers.

5. Not too many justifications
When you post statements in the social networks opposing Nazis or in favor of refugees, it is very probable that you will be attacked. Do not allow yourself to be cornered, or start to justify your statements. You do not have to apologize for refuting racist hate speech. In exchanges with incurably bigoted right-wingers particularly, it is often better to break off a discussion. If it becomes too much for you, just withdraw, and perhaps refrain from using social networks for a bit. Meeting up with friends, reading a book or going to the cinema will help you to take your mind off hate speech and rediscover the realization that the world is not an entirely evil place.

6. Seek professional help
There are moments when professional help is necessary. Whether it’s psychological therapy or also contact facilities that offer counseling and assistance when right-wing violence is involved. This is particularly true when people from your direct social environment are af fected. Important: there are counseling services that will help you when family and friends drift into the right-wing extremist milieu. Like the “Mobile Beratung gegen Rechts” (Mobile Counseling against Right-Wing Extremism).

7. Try to support victims in discussions
Provide them with argumentation support and let them know that they are not alone. Solidarity is an important instrument!

8. Publish the most outrageous things
Putting something in the public domain signifies in this case protection and solidarity, while privacy may even mean that you are left alone with the fallout. Feel free to publish it anonymously or also under your own name. At any rate, please remember: anonymity is not necessarily an indicator for hatred. The most intemperate statements often come from people who sign their full names underneath.

9. Seek allies
Encourage other users as well to take up a stance against hate speech, and join forces with them. Lots of things are much simpler when tackled together. When users are infuriating you with racist hate speech against refugees, it helps when several participants in the forum take up an opposing stance – simply request this if it is not happening!

10. Networking
Networks of like-minded people that exchange news and views and can be appropriately mobilized are very important, not least online. Events, publications and campaigns can be referenced, for example. Together, a major campaign can be launched on the internet: such as a hashtag campaign or a witty Facebook page, so as to overshadow right-wing hate speech with humor.

C2. Empowerment

Opposing right-wing hate speech in the social media is very important, but there is one point you should never lose sight of: to see and disseminate the stories and viewpoints of the refugees themselves. Refugees have a voice of their own; hearing and amplifying it can help to proactively counter right-wing hate speech. There are many projects ongoing for this purpose. Here is a small list with no claim to completeness:

http://www.refugeeradionetwork.net/ projekt.html
https://www.facebook. com/refugeeradionetwork/?fref=ts (Radio made by refugees for refugees, nationwide, several broadcasting locations)
https://arriving-in-berlin.de/ (Map made by refugees, Berlin)
https://asyl-in.de/ (In order to provide the refugees with an opportunity to tell and to safely communicate their own stories, the project provides a diverse infrastructure that is subsequently described. The input from the project is here restricted solely to structural measures. All contents are taken from the multifaceted stories of the refugees themselves.)

Overview of the projects from the Refugee Hackathon
http://refugeehackathon.de/ergebnisse/ doku-teil-3-bearbeitete-projekte/ u.a. spannend http:// including an exciting www.weconnect. berlin/

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