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Teaching Tolerance Countering Online Hate Speech

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Teaching Tolerance Countering Online Hate Speech


In 2013, a teenage girl named Trisha Prabhu had a simple idea. What if she could stop the perpetrators of online bias
and harassment by giving them a second chance? Trisha used her coding skills to create an app called ReThink. The app knows when users try to post something offensive or hurtful on social media. And as a substitute for a sometimes-lacking impulse control in young people, The app asks the questions we all should ask ourselves before
posting to social media: Are you sure? A complex formula but a simple concept—and it seems to work. The app overwhelmingly reduces the average teen’s willingness
to post an offensive message, tweet or post. Trisha began this initiative at the age of 13—proof that
young people have great ideas and great power. But you don’t have to be an expert in code to counter online harassment. Here, with a huge hat tip to the Dangerous Speech Project,is what
you can do to stop prejudiced speech in its tracks when you see it online, all from the comfort of your phone or computer. One, confront people using offensive speech online
by helping them consider the consequences. Tell them, “The internet may seem detached, but pain and trauma are very real. How will you feel if the person you target harms themselves
or someone else after reading a hurtful message? Your digital footprint is forever and often public. Think of it like a digital tattoo forever inked on your forehead. Is this something you want your employers, friends, family or law enforcement to see? While this may not lead to a long-term change of heart for
people spreading hurtful messages, it may make them think twice and delete the offending post or tone down their words. Two, label the online speech clearly. Words have power, and while we have to be careful and
thoughtful about the words and labels we use, we also should not fear speaking truth—especially when it
might help a victim of online bias or harassment. Label the words as “hurtful” or “dangerous.” If the person using biased speech doesn’t seem malicious, take this opportunity to calmly explain why what they’re saying is
false, unfair, insulting or upsetting. So, if someone tweets a slur at my friend or uses nasty stereotypes, I can step in and say, “Hey, what you’re saying is racist and unfair, and here’s why…” They will likely react defensively, but making them think is a step in the right direction. If the forum is public someone else may echo your message, and an internet user with an open mind may remember your words
the next time they consider using hateful speech or witness hate and bias online. Three, change the tone. Look, it’s tempting to meet prejudiced messages with equally personal and
insulting replies —especially when it feels like no one is listening. But research from the Dangerous Speech Project
suggests that using a friendlier, more empathetic or peaceful voice can help de-escalate an online conflict. Here are a couple strategies. Make a connection to the person using hateful speech. Finding common ground might make it more
difficult for them to ignore you or dismiss your feelings. Maybe you grew up in similar neighborhoods or in similar economic conditions. Maybe you share an identity. Telling someone, “I understand who you are or where you come from” may cause them to listen more when you then say,
“but your behavior is cruel and offensive.” Reply with unrelenting kindness. This can be hard when you are internally screaming, but most of the time, people using hurtful speech online are seeking attention and hoping people will lash out at them. Don’t feed the trolls or the haters—I think that’s what the kids say these days. Instead, wear them down with kindness. Use phrases like these. This may not change a person’s long-term behavior, but in the short term you provide no fuel for their fire, and your kindness may de-escalate someone who is obviously engaging in a one-sided, hateful conversation. You might even get an apology. Four, use humor and memes, but use them kindly. A recent trend online involves people using
jokes or images to spread vicious or extreme messages. This is dangerous because it turns those messages into a game, allowing people who share them the luxury of saying, “It’s just a joke,” or, “Don’t take it seriously.” This has led to many young people’s shame, embarrassment and harassment as their peers —and then strangers—spread that humiliation with a hashtag, laughing at their expense. There’s no reason these same tactics can’t be used to spread empathy and denounce stereotypes—with an important exception. It’s not funny if your counterspeech is to make fun of another
person’s appearance or identity or to use your own biases against them. What might this look like then? See a biased message or image? Use your words, or even your Photoshop skills, to turn it around. Use your sense of humor to soften the blow of labeling something as racist or biased, and use images to tell a story or send a message that promotes kindness. These kinds of posts get more shares than words alone. Finally, don’t get discouraged. Minds do not change easily—our brains literally fight against it like a cat fights against glassware on the kitchen counter. “I had a very specific idea of how counters worked and now you’ve
gone and introduced this glass and I can’t accept this reality.” But eventually, with enough spray bottles, they learn. Sometimes, it may feel like you are trying to create an ocean by spraying drops of water into a desert. It may feel hopeless, but minds can change, and you can help. Every drop counts.

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