Hate on the net: Diversity instead of exclusion

The anonymity of the internet in particular lowers the inhibition threshold for derogatory statements and hate comments. This also applies to people with disabilities who experience discrimination and disparagement online. How do we make the net a safe space for everyone?


In order to fight for an inclusive (online) world, many people speak openly about their disability in social media - and are often attacked for it. © iStock / Halfpoint

"Are you disabled!?" - you still hear some people ask when they disagree with their counterpart. 7.8 million people in Germany would answer, "Yes, I have a severe disability - why should that be an insult?" Often, we are not even aware that we are hurting people with our language. The technical word for unequal treatment of disabled people is ableistism. Language can also be ableist. The fact that a word like "disabled" is used as a swear word is also a symptom of how much ignorance and rejection still exists regarding people with disabilities. This is particularly evident on the net.

20 percent of hate comments on the internet are directed against people with disabilities. This was revealed by a Forsa survey conducted in 2022. The spectrum of digital hate ranges from spiteful disrespect to death threats. To fight for an inclusive (online) world, many people speak openly about their disability in social media - and are often attacked for it. 

On his Youtube account Gewitter im Kopf (Thunderstorm in the Head), Youtuber Jan explains the hurdles in everyday life with Tourette syndrome. For example, he gets messages that he is only faking his illness or that he is possessed by the devil. Ines Alexandra, who advocates for inclusion on TikTok, also regularly gets hateful messages. "I would be ashamed and not show like you" is one of the comments she has to read under her videos. 

Visibility instead of well-intentioned exclusion

In order to preventively protect users from such hate comments, a social media platform chose a controversial approach a few years ago. As research by from 2019 revealed, the content of people with disabilities was systematically regulated for years. The platform had instructed its moderators to limit the reach of users with disabilities. The company explained that this was a reaction to the increased risk of hate comments and acted to protect those affected.

Of course, making people with disabilities invisible is not a solution in the fight against hate online. On the contrary: visibility is the key to an inclusive and enlightened society. In the meantime, the company has revised its guidelines. Since 2021, users have also had the opportunity to check comments before they are published. This should ensure respectful interaction on the platform. This example shows how important it is that the diversity that makes our world so colorful and worth living in is also made visible and lived in social networks.

What can I do for an inclusive (online) world?

Hate against people with disabilities or other group-related hostility contradicts the fundamental values of our democracy. Therefore, it is even more important that each and every one of us stands up for an inclusive world. If we witness hate on the internet - also against people with disabilities - we must take action. Our 10 tips for digital moral courage explain how to do this. 

But our own behavior in everyday life can also contribute to an inclusive society. Language is an important tool for breaking down prejudices and creating an environment in which all people feel respected and seen. This applies to spoken language as well as to comment columns on the net. The glossary of the "suffering media" project provides a helpful overview for inclusive language. Find out why sensitive language is so important in the fight against hate on the internet in this article.

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Words must not become a weapon. Deutsche Telekom is fighting for a network without hate in which we treat one another respectfully.