No doubt that every problem has its own roots and hate speech is no exception. But how does it work? Where does all this harmful hate come from and how is it born in the first place? Well, there is a lot hiding behind it…Let’s take a look:
LEVEL 1: Stereotypes
“Stereotypes are generalized, oversimplified or generalized beliefs about a group of people. A stereotype is “an image in our mind”, that determines how we come to hold certain beliefs about a person, just because that person belongs to a certain group.”
Stereotypes are an integral part of our everyday life, perception and behaviors, affecting our habits, our relationships with family and friends, our traditions and customs, our political beliefs, our social attitude, even our sexual behavior.
So, what are the main characteristics of stereotypes?
“Greeks are lazy.”– but also:“Greeks are warm and welcoming people.”
“Asians are good at math.” – it is a false statement with no scientific proof:, although there have been a lot of bright cases of Asians thriving in natural sciences and mathematics.
“Latin men are fantastic lovers.” –a stereotype rooted in cinema, since many films in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s included Latin men who were irresistibly charming and seductive.
The Harvard Educational Review (2019): “asians Are Good At Math” Is Not a Compliment: Stem Success As a Threat To Personhood, by Niral Shah
”Scandinavians are well-structured and progressive.” – when compared to Balkans people.
“Scandinavians are cold and distant.” – when compared to Mediterranean people.
“Women have the motherly instinct.” – which comes from the traditional formula of the past, where women were mostly responsible for raising their children. However, in modern societies the number of fathers taking care of their children has risen significantly, inserting the “paternal instinct” as equally prevalent and important.
LEVEL 2: Prejudice
Prejudice, in the majority of the cases, refers to negative attitudes of rejection towards themembers of a group, based on the sole fact that we consider them as belonging to that group.
Prejudice often begins in the form of a stereotype and expands in a way that makes us selectively interpret reality through our conscious or sub-conscious negative feelings, stereotyped beliefs and a tendency to discriminate against an individual or a group of people, which are often based on their race, gender, ability, ethnicity, nationality,religion, age, social status, sexual orientation, economic status, etc.
Although these examples might sound harsh and unacceptable in the modern ages, unfortunately it is a fact that they still exist to a large extent in the broad population, although they do not reflect reality at any level.
In other words, stereotypes and prejudices make us act like this: wedo not see before we define, but we define before we see.
And where does this misperception and misinterpretation of reality lead us in the end of the day? How do they affect our behavior towards others? Let’s see!
LEVEL 3: Discrimination
We hear, read or discuss a lot about discrimination in our everyday life, as it seems to be a common occurrence in modern societies, despite the huge efforts against it by local, national and international stakeholders, educational structures, NGOs, informal groups of people or even individual initiatives, that takes place both online and offline.
Discrimination against a target group can be straight forward or disguised under the mask of harmless and superficially fair behaviors. Schematically, discrimination can be recognized in three different forms:
Example: a properly qualified woman is not offered a promotion and the job goes to a less qualified man.
Example:a minimum height requirement for a job where height is not relevant to carry out the role.
Example:different criminal laws imposed to a certain target group due to their political beliefs.
After exploring all these different, though interlinked phases, let’s meet the king of the jungle: HATE SPEECH!
LEVEL 4: Hate speech
Several EU institutions describe hate speech as a repeated verbal or psychological harassment carried out by an individual or group against others. Hate speech is all about inappropriate, abusive or cruel insults or demeaning language or threatening words directed at or against a person or group of persons identified by their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or other sources of discrimination.
And if this phenomenon already existed in face-to-face interactions, the explosion of Internet use has inevitably led to an explosion of online hate speech, not only in terms of cases, but also in different forms and variations.
Online hate speech includes all forms of expression, such as:
But why is this phenomenon getting wilder online? What are the main reasons that push the perpetrators to behave far beyond the limits of bearable, let alone acceptable against their victims? Let’s take a look:
In any case, it is common sense that online hate speech is a crucial modern phenomenon which can bring devastating results not only to its targets, but also to the society as a whole, and it needs to be immediately tackled.