The digital space is full of possibilities - but it also harbors risks. Fake news, hate comments and shitstorms seem to be just waiting to strike unpredictably and loudly. But that doesn't have to be the case: With digital moral courage, we can work together to counter hate on the web.
A large part of our everyday life takes place on the World Wide Web. 93 percent of the total German population is regularly online, and 72 million people clicked through the feeds of social media channels in 2022. But wherever dialogs take place, misunderstandings or even hatred, exclusion and discrimination can also occur.
Just as in real life, something can be done about it: with digital moral courage and active counter-speech. Experience shows that haters stop when they are rejected several times. Once the start has been made, other people often join in and take a stand. Negative comments and hate speech can thus be demonstrably classified and collectively mitigated.
Automated dissemination of hate comments
One problem with hate on the web, in addition to "real" hate speech, are statements and comments made by so-called bots. These are computer programs that take over tasks automatically. Some use false identities and are programmed to spread targeted disinformation on the web. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of hate comments are spread via bots.* But modern programming can also have positive sides.
Bots support counter-speech and civil courage
The Swiss women's umbrella organization alliance F, for example, works with numerous volunteers to combat hate comments online. As part of the "Stop Hate Speech" project, a bot was developed that automatically detects negative or violent language in social media or on newspaper platforms. Registered supporters of the project have the opportunity - via smartphone or computer - to rate the comments found by the bot web-based and thus train its hit rate. The bot, which goes by the name of "Bot Dog," comes in the form of a cute dog puppy, and thanks to it, rating is even fun: It is done in a playful way by swiping to the left or right.
"We want to defuse the climate on the Internet through the interaction of technology and civil society," says Sasha Rosenstein, project staff member at alliance F. "Thanks to our bot, from now on everyone can actively contribute to making the Web a violence-free space. We now have more than 1,200 volunteers on board who have rated around 300,000 comments over the past three years."
"Stop Hate Speech" also investigates how to specifically reject hate comments. "In a research project with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the University of Zurich, we are testing various counter speech strategies for their effectiveness and impact. We have already found out in a Twitter study that the phenomenon of hate speech can be combated very specifically with empathy," Rosenstein explains. Answers that appeal to the empathy of hate speakers could persuade them to change their behavior.
Get involved and set an example
By the way, anyone who wants to support the Stop Hate Speech initiative can also do so from Germany: Simply register at www.stophatespeech.ch and get involved.
As is always the case in life, the digital world also shows that a lot is a question of perspective. Bots can spread hate. But they do a good job in many areas. It depends on what you make of it yourself. Everyone has the opportunity to make a clear statement against hate. Let's get started!
*Source: Bad Bot Report 2021: The Pandemic of the Internet