This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
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We all like to think we're that person. Maybe we're on a train, or walking down the street, or scrolling through tweets, and we witness the worst kind of one-way conversation: One person slamming another for their skin colour, gender, perceived faith. We all like to think we'd say something. But what would we actually do? What have we ever done?
While there is no universal definition of hate speech, here's a broad way to identify it: An attack on a person, or a group of people, based on who they are, their identity, or their attributes. Online, in particular, haters can be quick to pile on—with real-world consequences. Studies have shown that when there is an uptick in hate speech against a certain group of people, it is usually accompanied by an increase in identity-based hate crimes and violence.
We're free to say whatever we want in this country, but what happens when people hate on others just for being who they are? Here are four people who are taking a stand against hate speech, and the ways you can rally, too.
BOBUQ SAYED - WRITER, EDITOR, PERFORMANCE-MAKER, AND COMMUNITY ORGANISER
"It's really hard not to be hurt and despondent after experiencing hate speech, but that's on a personal level, and that's something that you have social support networks in place to rectify."
Bobuq Sayed identifies as queer, non-binary, and Muslim, and they work as the deputy online editor and co-editor of Archer Magazine, a publication about sex, gender, and identity that highlights voices underrepresented in mainstream media. It provides a strong platform for those in the LGBTIQA community.
"Working directly with the queer community, I see how resilient we've become to abuse because of how consistently we receive it in our lives, on- and offline," Sayed says. "Our visibility makes us a target. There are countless Australians who respond to the queer community with contempt, and perhaps even more who hear about the abuse we experience and dismiss it."
If you identify as LGBTIQA, handling hate speech is often part of living your life. If you think this is completely unacceptable and want to do something about it, Sayed has some straight-up advice: Educate yourself (the gay-straight alliance networks across the world are a great place to start), stay active on social media, but—most importantly, and this can be hard—start talking at home.
"I really believe in the idea of tackling your own backyard and your own extended family first before you start trying to save the world," they tell VICE. "If everyone committed to educating people within their own familial/social network about the detrimental consequences of hate speech, I think we'd start to see gears shifting."
While Sayed agrees that sharing positive news and important information via Facebook feeds can be helpful, real change comes from engaging with those who have differing views. "The reality is that a Facebook post does tend to reach only your own networks, and functions in the realm of personal validation. Going further to invest the emotional labour of educating (especially for those who are privileged enough not to have to do this regularly) should be a hallmark of today's online and offline activism."
LUCY THOMAS - PROJECT ROCKIT
Ten years ago, Lucy Thomas and her sister Rosie co-founded Project Rockit, a Melbourne-based organisation that runs school workshops to help kids stand up to bullying, hate, and prejudice—instead of watching it play out. The main focus? Cyberbullying.
"To think of cyberbullying as an issue with technology can be a big mistake that a lot of organisations make," Thomas says. "At Project Rockit we see cyberbullying as a social issue that plays out online."
The 10-person team now rolls out programs in two schools around Australia every day, conducts large-scale events, weighs in on anti-bullying campaigns, and works closely with the likes of Google, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to help improve safety and reporting systems for kids online.
As Thomas explains, it's easy to hide behind a screen. The anonymity that being online affords, combined with how easy it is to attack, can make bullied kids feel like the whole world's against them. "Their shame and humiliation can be amplified by the potential scale of the audience, and the permanence of this kind of stuff," Thomas says.
The good news? "When you stop seeing this as a solely technological issue, you can start to create pro-social strategies for standing up to hate, which go the core of what you stand for. Then it's about taking action."
Thomas has two types of strategies. The first is more reactive: reporting hate speech, unfollowing accounts that routinely give hate to minorities, or challenging an assertion with a short comment that shows you disagree, and encouraging others to do the same. The second is to proactively share positive stories about groups and cultures who might be more readily attacked, and help get their voices out there.
"When you think about the algorithms online, about what makes something go viral, it's about people supporting and getting behind something and sharing it," Thomas says. "So, as well as being literate about how to shut hate speech down when we see it happen, I do believe this is one of the strongest ways we can all counter hate."
DR STEPHEN CARBONE - BEYOND BLUE
Beyond Blue is one of Australia's biggest support networks for people with depression and anxiety. A large part of their work also goes into unearthing the underlying causes of these conditions, which include humans being horrible to humans.
"Racism, homophobia, and general disrespectful, aggressive speech and behaviour are things that damage people's self-esteem, impact on identity, and make people feel helpless and worthless," says Dr Stephen Carbone, who heads up the organisation's advocacy and provides support for its research initiatives. "They therefore trigger and contribute to the development of conditions, particularly depression but also anxiety and suicide."
Beyond Blue has a history of creating campaigns that cut through, and their work around hate speech holds up. Stop. Think, Respect. challenges negative behaviour towards the LGBTQI community, while the Invisible Discriminator video addresses everyday racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people. The tag line: "No one should be made to feel like crap just for being who they are."
Tackling the subtler examples of hate speech is an important part of these campaigns. "Soft" jokes, language, and behaviour by people who are fortunate enough not to experience hate speech often contribute painfully to the problem for minority groups. "We need to be mindful of what impact our conversations are having on vulnerable people," says Dr Carbone. "You might not intend it but I'm telling you it happens."
WIDYAN FARES - JOURNALIST
"People need to realise that hate speech has casualties, and those casualties are us: people," says Widyan Fares, staff writer at The Point Magazine, a digital publication that covers international politics, religion, society, and culture in relation to Australia's multicultural communities. "Whether you're Muslim, whether you're not, whether you're Indigenous Australian… They're not just words. They actually do hurt."
Fares was born in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. Her parents, fleeing the Ba'ath regime in Iraq, were accepted into Australia as refugees five years later. Being of Iraqi decent and Muslim, she's been a target of hate speech, but never felt like she didn't belong in Australia, until recently.
"I actually feel that I don't belong more now than I ever did when I was growing up here, and that's something that breaks my heart," she says. "I've never felt so under scrutiny as an Australian Muslim woman. I've never felt such intense pressure from people who expect me to justify my place and how I express myself. Certainly, that's just one portion of the community but it's a very loud portion and they are dominating the space."
The Point Magazine gives Fares a platform to communicate first-person stories and different viewpoints backed up by facts. Issues she's covered range from encountering violent extremism to online hate. "It's not just about debunking stereotypes," she says, "but also showing the consequences of hate speech, and the consequences of violent extremism through personal stories. A lot of the time you find a lot of fearmongering, so without the facts you find that it proliferates."
As Fares sees it, combatting fearmongering isn't just the responsibility of victims, or the responsibility of Indigenous communities, or of any other communities—it's up to all of us.
"Sometimes the strongest voice against hate speech isn't from the victim—it's from the people who can see it happening and they speak out," she says. "I think the best thing about Australians generally is that they actually do stick up for you. I have a lot of friends, who aren't Muslim, who have a different faith, and when they see hate speech they say something. They don't let it slide."
Care about combatting hate speech? Get educated about the people who are most readily affected by it. Start here: Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Minus 18, Ygender, The Online Hate Prevention Institute, Marhaba Melbourne, Archer Magazine, Beyond Blue Invisible Discriminator, and The Point Magazine.
Say something when the people around you, especially family and friends, use hate speech .
Share stories, news, and experiences online that positively represent minority groups.
Think before you use racially-charged language. Always. It might be part of a joke to you, but it is hurting someone else .
Show people targeted by hate speech that you have their back by speaking up when it's safe to do so .
Be vigilant and quickly report instances of online hate speech to site moderators, and governing bodies.
You can find out more about hate speech and how you can create an alternative narrative over at Share Some Good.