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How to help people facing hate speech?

Hate speech is hurtful, humiliating and frightening. It hurts people because it offends the very nature and identity of human beings, it questions their humanity and their right to be part of a society.

If someone close to you has experienced racism, sexism, homophobia or hatred based on other grounds, you can help them by following the advice below:

Ensure that your speech, comments, posts or everyday life do not express hostility based on race, gender, sexual orientation or other personal identity characteristics.

Express your support. Support someone close to you not only with words but also with actions. For example, if someone close to you has received hostility on a social network, show your support by writing a positive, supportive comment. Often, when faced with hatred, hostility and negative comments, people feel confused and helpless. By expressing your disapproval of hateful comments and openly supporting them with a positive comment, you can boost the self-esteem of the person experiencing the hate, and support them psychologically.

IMPORTANT! You are not obliged to discuss or otherwise communicate directly with the person expressing hatred. It is important to show support for the person who has experienced hatred, but you are certainly not obliged to continue the conversation with the aggressor. If you can, please report inappropriate comments to the administrators of social accounts or news portals.

Offer help. A person confronted with hate speech may be confused and not know what to do. Most people who have experienced hate attacks are afraid to take action, worried that the attacks and threats will continue. As a result, they often hesitate to seek help. Offer to help report the incident to the police or seek help from other organizations. Hate speech not only undermines self-confidence but also has a negative impact on mental health. Therefore, offer your support, encouragement and emotional help to your loved one. Listen and show empathy. You can also recommend seeking professional emotional support.

Listen to persons’ stories. Often people try to question or belittle the seriousness of the experiences of those who have faced hatred. Listen to them and don’t doubt their experience and feelings. Forms of hatred and/or discrimination can be very subtle and not visible at first sight. Trust the judgement of people from different vulnerable groups and hear what they feel, see, experience and face. Talking to people who experience hate speech can open the eyes of those who are in the majority and do not experience similar behavior.

Embrace uncomfortable conversations about human rights. Engaging in conversations about racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, ageism (spreading negative stereotypes or discrimination on the basis of age), hate speech, discrimination, and other human rights violations is often time-consuming and, most importantly, requires energy and effort. It is not easy to question, challenge or try to refute someone’s hateful statements. Sometimes it’s very unpleasant, scary and uncomfortable. However, by actively demonstrating your opposition to hatred and calling the people who incite it to account, you are helping to publicize the problem and raise awareness. If you’re willing to have an uncomfortable conversation about human rights, back up your position with real stories, constructive arguments, statistics and scientific sources. It is worth pointing out that you will get more out of it if you talk about yourself and how spreading hatred affects you, rather than others.

Ask questions of those spreading hate. If you decide to express your opposition to hate speech in public, one effective tactic is to ask questions. For example, “why do you say that?”, “what exactly did you mean by that word or expression?”, “what are you referring to when you say that?”. Questions like these and others like them can provide an opportunity for the person spreading hatred to reflect on their words and their meaning.

Don’t respond to hatred with hatred. Communicate respectfully, calmly and ethically. Only by communicating in this way will you create a safe environment for others to speak out who may also be opposed to hatred, but are afraid to confront it or share their opposition in public.

Choose language that does not dehumanize. How you talk and communicate about human rights is important. Try to bring as many real examples of persons’s authentic experiences as possible into the conversations. For example, terms such as “refugees” and “migrants” are sometimes too impersonal and do not reflect person’s experiences. It will be more impactful if you talk about “people who were forced to leave their homes”.

Based on:

  • Six Steps to Speak Up. In Learningforjustice.org.
  • Bates L. Everyday Sexism, Simon & Shuster UK Ltd, 2014.
  • Six Ways to Call Out Racism and Bigotry When You See It.  In Amnesty.org.au.