New handbook describes how to intervene against daily hatred and racism in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands
"For every famous football player forced to read racist insults on his Twitter feed, there are probably thousands of clerks, nurses, homemakers, human rights defenders, students and many others grappling with diverse forms of discrimination on a daily basis," write the authors of a new manual called Experiencing Hate Speech: Responses, Coping Strategies and Interventions, a compendium of qualitative research recently undertaken in five countries of the EU - the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands - that focused on living with hate on a daily basis; the Czech research was undertaken by Bob Kuřík, Jan Charvát and Marie Heřmanová. The handbook also draws on quantitative data and statistics, but the authors have gone far beyond the numbers in their analysis.
"Our ambition was to attempt to transform the data we found not just into numbers, but into stories. The aim of this brochure is to tell the story of what it is like to experience hate speech and racism as part of daily life," the authors describe.
The situations described by the research are ones that are only rarely included in official statistics and are sometimes hard to define under criminal law as hate crimes or hate speech because it can be difficult for those not being targeted to grasp their hateful nature, but that does not mean they are any less serious or threatening to those who are the targets of such hate; the manual presents 17 examples of these stories, contextualizing them in their essential local settings with sensitivity. The emphasis is placed on the perspective of the individuals who are impacted in particular by hate crime and hate speech - unlike the approach to such academic and applied research (and likewise by the media) that has predominated to date, which focuses on who the perpetrators are, what their motivations are, and how we can prevent them from committing crime.
A wild arena
In addition to the growth in hate crime and hate speech that is currently underway, the authors also researched who is most frequently being targeted and where; according to the findings, the most frequent "targets" are immigrants or refugees, people of color, Muslims, Jews, LGBT+ persons, Roma and Sinti, and people living with disabilities. "According to the findings of the nonprofit organizations dealing with hate crime in the Czech Republic, hate speech most frequently targets Romani people (49 %), Muslims (23 %) and refugees (9 %), with those latter two categories customarily overlapping each other," the publication reports.
It is essentially possible to encounter hate speech anywhere, according to the research, but there are three main areas where it can be found: Online, during encounters with institutions and officials, and in public places such as the street. "In the Czech Republic, content that is discriminatory and racist is spread by propaganda websites connected to the pro-Putin Russian troll farms that gained important influence in the public space during the Russian occupation of Crimea and the subsequent violent conflict on Ukrainian territory," the authors of the publication note.
Experiencing Hate Speech was released more than a month before the aggressive invasion by Russia of Ukraine on 24 February this year, which continues currently to demonstrate the danger and the strength of those behind the scenes of the virtual world. "Social media such as Facebook may have undoubtedly democratized the public discourse and given a voice to those who could not be heard before, but they have developed into a wild, unregulated arena where hate speech and aggressive content flows freely without limitation," the handbook reports.
"Domestic and European lawmakers are having a problem keeping up with the gigantic corporations that own social media networks and comprise a crucial component of what is called platform capitalism," the manual says. According to the conclusions drawn from the everyday experiences of the respondents to this research, however, the offline and online spheres are not actually separated from each other in this regard, while hate speech committed in person in the offline world usually has a more significant impact on them.
Don't keep it to yourself
The authors of the publication engage quite thoroughly with the terminology used to describe such events, especially explaining the issues with using the concept of a "victim" and its connotations (they themselves prefer to speak of people who are being affected or threatened by different kinds of discriminatory, hateful behavior) as well as intersectionality. Significant attention is also paid to how to respond to hate speech, to coping strategies, and to questions of intervention and support.
The handbook describes how state institutions like court systems and police function and what their role is in the infrastructure of support for people affected by discrimination, as well as the network of support in civil society and NGOs working in the areas of crime victim protection, discrimination, racism, etc. "One of the essential factors that partially aids with eliminating the impact of hate speech has been the interventions made by bystanders during verbal attacks," the authors of the research describe, reporting that all of the respondents spoke of personal interventions by bystanders as a kind of assistance that had a big effect on them.
At the same time, however, the authors report that bystander interventions happen rarely - or rather, that they tend not to happen while a verbal attack is underway. However, they are an essential component of the mental health care that follows an attack, when respondents speak with family or friends about their experience.
The publication concludes with recommendations based on their interviews with people who experience discrimination on a daily basis, including that they should never hesitate to ask others for help once an attack begins. The handbook was produced as part of the Erasmus+ Smart for Democracy and Diversity project and is available in five languages at www.sdd-game.eu.
First published in Czech in Romano voďi magazine.
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