The strug­gle against hate, on­line and off­line

The Asian Age - - Dis Course - (The au­thor is Do­cent at the In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies and Jour­nal­ism at Charles Uni­ver­sity in Prague)

Don't pro­mote neg­a­tiv­ity on­line and ex­pect peo­ple to treat you with pos­i­tiv­ity in per­son — Ger­many Kent

Pro­pa­gan­dists have used hate for as long as pro­pa­ganda ex­ists — but with the pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion the op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­tribut­ing (on­line) hate have pro­lif­er­ated

Hate kills. It is an af­fect that is con­sid­ered to be among the most detri­men­tal in our so­ci­eties. This is par­tially because of its own de­struc­tive force: It func­tions as an ab­sorp­tive vor­tex that not only re­moves the hu­man­ity from those who hate, but also cre­ates com­mu­ni­ties through the per­verse plea­sure that hate gives to haters. The de­struc­tive na­ture also ap­plies to th­ese who are be­ing hated, because of the vi­o­lence that is of­ten pro­duced by hate.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween hate and vi­o­lence is not au­to­matic, af­ter all — one can hate in soli­tude and si­lence — but the intensity of hate begs for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, to con­vince the po­ten­tially like­minded and to hurt the ob­jects of hate. This is where vi­o­lence en­ters the equa­tion, as the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of hate is a form of sym­bolic vi­o­lence. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion can act as sharp weapons in its own right, but the con­struc­tion of an us/them di­chotomy is also a con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­ity for physical vi­o­lence, for the at­tempts to de­stroy the ob­ject of hate.

This is why the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of hate is con­sid­ered to be so prob­lem­atic. It is not a neu­tral ex­er­cise of the freedom of ex­pres­sion, but nar­ra­tives that di­rectly harm oth­ers, and cre­ate the con­di­tions for un­leash­ing the worst pos­si­ble hu­man be­hav­iour. Even if this is not a new phe­nom­e­non — pro­pa­gan­dists have used hate for as long as pro­pa­ganda ex­ists — but with the pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion the op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­tribut­ing (on­line) hate have pro­lif­er­ated.

In turn, this has pro­voked so­ci­etal de­bate, about the need, de­sir­abil­ity, na­ture and ef­fi­cacy of in­ter­ven­tion, at, for in­stance, gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try (e.g., Face­book) levels. Also re­searchers from a va­ri­ety of fields and dis­ci­plines en­gage in th­ese de­bates.

Re­cently, the pres­ti­gious aca­demic journal, Na­ture, mostly ac­tive in the nat­u­ral sciences re­search, pub­lished an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled, “Hid­den re­silience and adap­tive dy­nam­ics of the global on­line hate ecol­ogy”, an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween schol­ars from physics, in­ter­ac­tional af­fairs and com­puter sciences. Even if their metaphors from the world of the nat­u­ral sciences have a bit of a 19th-cen­tury feel (when so­ci­ol­ogy used bi­o­log­i­cal metaphors, which didn’t work too well), their basic anal­y­sis makes sense.

Even if many hate com­mu­ni­ties have au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies, which sup­port cen­tral­i­sa­tion, they are rev­o­lu­tion­ary en­ti­ties that have de­cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures. They are net­works and net­works-of-net­works, con­nected with each other in a va­ri­ety of ways. As such this is not new, but the de­cen­tralised na­ture of th­ese net­works aligns very well with the de­cen­tralised na­ture of the in­ter­net. This also makes coun­ter­ing th­ese nar­ra­tives and or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures dif­fi­cult. The au­thors of the Na­ture ar­ti­cle do add a few el­e­ments to this model, which are worth em­pha­siz­ing. First, th­ese hate com­mu­ni­ties look for the weak­est link in the on­line ecol­ogy: They mi­grate to those plat­forms that po­lice hate the least, which shows that the strug­gle to re­duce hate nec­es­sar­ily needs to be mul­ti­plat­form.

To bring in my own take on this, and a flavour of French phi­los­o­phy: Th­ese net­works are rhi­zomes, root-shaped net­works that move un­der­ground, and whose vis­i­ble (up­per) parts can be re­placed eas­ily when elim­i­nated. Sec­ondly, the au­thors show that th­ese hate com­mu­ni­ties are global, con­nect­ing ac­tivists of hate that are ac­tive on dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents. Of course, as of­ten hap­pens in this kind of re­search, which is re­gret­ful, most of the re­search is sit­u­ated in western coun­tries (al­though e.g., South Africa and the Philip­pines seem to be in­cluded), but the idea that there are “high­ways” that con­nect dif­fer­ent lo­cal­i­ties of hate, and dif­fer­ent projects of hate, is pre­cious.

The au­thors make four pol­icy sug­ges­tions

in their ar­ti­cle, which might pro­voke less agree­ment. Even if the pos­si­ble con­se­quences (and suc­cesses) of th­ese sug­ges­tions are tested through the models that the au­thors have de­vel­oped, it remains prob­lem­atic how th­ese pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions are not grounded in the­ory or in a thor­ough pol­icy anal­y­sis, but just ap­pear to have come to the minds of the au­thors when they were study­ing their data. Still, their four sug­ges­tions might stim­u­late de­bate, and should thus at least be men­tioned here. The au­thors pro­pose (1) to first ban the small hate clus­ters, and not try to go for the large clus­ters first; (2) to ran­domly ban “a small frac­tion of in­di­vid­ual users across the on­line hate pop­u­la­tion”, as this will re­duce the (le­gal) back­lash; (3) to set clus­ters against each other and mo­bi­liz­ing “anti-hate users” for this pur­pose and (4) to ex­ploit the in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tions of hate com­mu­ni­ties.

One of the prob­lems of this line of ar­gu­ment is that it turns the prob­lem of hate into a tech­ni­cal is­sue, which might in­deed work well with how on­line plat­forms func­tion in prac­tice, but not with ide­olo­gies of hate. This tech­ni­cal ap­proach comes at an ex­pense, as it pushes out the eth­i­cal and the ide­o­log­i­cal di­men­sions. Ran­dom sanc­tion­ing might sound ac­cept­able, but it in­tro­duces a chance di­men­sion to jus­tice, which I would not con­sider an eth­i­cal pol­icy. In con­trast, we should com­bat dif­fer­ences in how jus­tice is served, but this is an­other dis­cus­sion. The ide­o­log­i­cal di­men­sion also dis­ap­pears, but hate is not only about net­works of peo­ple, but about po­lit­i­cal strug­gles that do have an in­tel­lec­tual lead­er­ship. Hate is felt and ex­pe­ri­enced, but it is also used to serve po­lit­i­cal-ide­o­log­i­cal pur­poses. More­over, hate is not only af­fect, as it be­comes con­densed into com­mu­ni­ca­tion and dis­course.

And this is where the ar­ti­cle, and in par­tic­u­lar their third sug­ges­tions, be­comes in­spi­ra­tional, even if some vari­a­tion is needed. We need to be­come an­ti­hate ac­tivists. Our gov­ern­ments need to be­come anti-hate. Our com­pa­nies need to be­come anti-hate. There is, more than ever, a need to rein­vig­o­rate the maybe slightly naïve be­lief in a bet­ter world, driven by hu­man­ity and broth­er­hood+. And this is why we should not fo­cus ex­clu­sively on on­line hate. How­ever im­por­tant it is to re­duce the vis­i­bil­ity of hate com­mu­ni­ca­tion, we need to start think­ing in a much more in­te­grated way, developing strate­gies that move hate out­side our world of ideas, af­fects, ac­tions, and yes, com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Hate crime vic­tims left sui­ci­dal and afraid to leave home because of at­tacks ‘un­leashed af­ter Brexit ref­er­en­dum'" - In­de­pen­dent.co.uk "Face­book Live mur­der: North Carolina man ar­rested"- BBC "A High School Stu­dent Com­mit­ted Sui­cide Af­ter Post­ing A Mes­sage Of Her In­tent On YouTube." - Buz­zfeed News "India: A coun­try of cy­ber­bul­lies?" - Busi­ness Stan­dard


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