René Bresgen


Group-focused online hate: A danger to democracy

Online hate is only caused by personal conflicts so it’s better to not get involved, right? Wrong! It’s precisely hate speech that aims to demean people because they (apparently) belong to a certain group. Those who are affected include people with a background of migration, queer people, women, or persons with disabilities for instance. Group-focused enmity is a danger to our society. It concerns us all.

Women are particularly often victims of hate speech.

Women are particularly often victims of hate speech. © Deutsche Telekom

When speaking about online hate, a term that is frequently used is “hate speech”. Inappropriate comments or insults are often directed at individuals themselves. However, “hate speech” is the term for hate against certain groups or individuals based on their group affiliation. Hate speech primarily manifests in demeaning comments in the belief that these groups are worth less. The technical term for this type of hate is “group-focused enmity”. This phenomenon isn’t new and has been around forever: from sexism and witch-hunting to anti-semitism, racism, and queerphobia. The digital form of this hate is a huge problem affecting society.

Hate speech is a danger to our society

When people are insulted or threatened online for being part of a certain group, they often feel insecure, defenseless, and question their own beliefs. There are also worries that words on the internet could turn into physical violence. The consequence: They no longer dare to openly express their opinions or withdraw from the internet completely as the pressure is becoming too heavy. This results in their voice being lost and means that not everyone is equally able to participate in social dialog. Certain people on the internet then take advantage of this and strategically make use of hate speech for their own benefit. However, in a democracy, it is essential that people are able to communicate openly with each other and exchange different points of view. Therefore, all groups in society must be heard, seen, and represented.

According to a current Forsa study, people who express a public political opinion, women, and people with a migration background are particularly often affected by hate speech. In some cases, the digital violence even escalates and turns to physical violence or sexual attacks. The perpetrators have many motives but the aim is to humiliate the victims, discredit their reputation, or to socially isolate them. 

Digital and analog violence also go hand-in-hand in private settings. Many women’s shelters and women’s advice centers report that stalking and domestic violence almost always also takes place via messenger, email, or social media. This makes it all the more important to intervene and offer support. The Violence against women support hotline offers information, advice, and support. Online advice services such as HateAid as well as local facilities offer help. 

Everybody can do something

We are all obligated to take action against group-focused enmity. Legal measures and the prosecution of hate speech are the basis for defending democratic values. However, society also needs to be made aware of these topics as well as how it can respond to hate speech.

The “mini-workshops to go” offered by our partner Ichbinhier are a very good option for learning strategies on how to respond to hate speech. The workshops represent the essence of six years of experience collected by their action group. This group has set itself the task of not looking away and taking an active stand when hate threatens people on social media. The “Digital civil courage in the case of hatred against female-read people: Bodyshaming, Ageism, Cyberstalking, Doxing, Sexual Harassment” workshop will take place on September 28, 2023. What do the terms mean? All of these terms refer to various forms of discrimination, harassment, and abusive behavior that, in particular, can be experienced by persons read as female. The workshop is free of charge.

The upcoming “mini-workshops to go” from Ichbinhier:

  • September 28, 2023: Digital civil courage in the case of hatred against female-read people –Register here
  • October 4, 2023: Becoming a Digital Activist - Digital civil courage strategies – Register here
  • November 6, 2023: Digital civil courage in the face of hate against climate protectors – Register here
#TAKEPART in fighting for a network without hate

No Hate Speech

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