Control Hate Speech, keep away consequences

Social scientists have confirmed that hate speech spread through the social media creates numerous dangers, hazards and risks to the society. It also leads to unexpected clashes within communities which consume time and energy of local elders to settle them. If these clashes, conflicts and collisions are not settled by the elders in good time, they may transform and engage the society at large. These call for the attention of law and order enforcement agencies.

In Ethiopia, the lower level of administration may also be responsible for maintaining peace at the community level. There may be several causes for conflicts at that level, one of which is hate speech. This act may offend individuals and groups who may want to retaliate. It may rekindle, renew and regenerate violence and skirmishes at wider levels, which become difficult to check in time. There is a saying that a stitch in time saves nine. If local conflicts caused by hate speech transmitted through the social media are not controlled in time they may extend to the wider community.

Studies indicate that, hate speech transmitted through the social media often fuels violence and discrimination against marginalized groups. It is revealed that racial minorities are victims of violence caused and spread by hate speech. Minority groups may have to get organized in self-defense against illegal hooligans who conduct terrorist acts of hate, disgust and extreme dislike on these groups of innocent citizens.

If not fully controlled by the law enforcement agencies in time, the violent attacks instigated by the social media may extend to religious institutions and communities that totally depend on the prevalence of peace and security. Their religious operations will be disrupted by irresponsible individuals who propagate hate speech on them. The members of a certain sect of religion may be indiscriminately attacked and vilified using awful and appalling words, insults, abuses, as well as offensive and impolite acts. The religious community may be forced to defend itself in like manner, using legal means. The sword and the cross may confront each other unless the State interferes in time.

At the individual level, hate speech is a thorny issue that may be settled by various means. Individuals may be creative enough to develop instruments for confronting hate speeches directed at them through the social media. They may initially respond in like manner, hate speech with hate…. Individuals may transform it to the community level where their friends and colleagues may generate their means of communicating disgusting and repulsive languages.

As hate breeds more repulsion, disgust, loathing and dislike among individuals and communities, it may be difficult to control it. Elders entrusted with resolving conflicts that arise from offensive languages between individuals and communities find it difficult to control it in time. It is even more difficult if the individuals are immigrants, coming from abroad. These immigrants come from abroad into the country to live permanently. They are bound to live in a country other than that of their place of origin or birth.

Ethiopian immigrants or emigrants run away from a community that is filled with hate. They struggle to reach a country that is free from hate speech. Such a country accommodates individuals irrespective of their age, sex, color, ethnic or tribal group. It is a country that is free from discrimination of persons based on their color or language. However, this is not true for Ethiopians who are subjected to prejudice, inequity and bigotry because of their ethnic, tribal or clan origin.

The class struggle had caused the elimination of millions of the Ethiopian youth during the authoritarian military regime. This has been followed by ethnic struggle promoted by the TPLF regime that also subjected millions to death without trace. In both cases, “hate crime” has subconsciously been committed by the leaders of class as well as ethnic struggles.

Hate crime promoted by the social media has contributed to physical attacks, harassments, and elimination of political leaders and their followers. Such measures have diminished the vigor, dynamism and vitality of the Ethiopian youth. But they will reemerge.

The Ethiopian youth need not be exposed to hate speech that ensue psychological harm. The exposure of the youth to hate speech can only cause psychological harm, including increased anxiety and depression. It cannot afford to continue with unemployment and underemployment that result in poverty and social distress. These factors may force the unemployed persons to engage in hate speech toward those they believe are the causes of poverty.

Of course, the major cause of poverty is war, conflict or clash that could have been resolved through discussion with the contesting parties. The worst effects of these events are the feelings of fear and isolation among disputing, but losing parties. Conflicts undermine their sense of safety and belonging in the Ethiopian society.

One of the major failures of minimizing the impacts of hate speech is the normalization of prejudice, injustice and intolerance. Members of the community feel secluded and disoriented when injustice prevails. Hate speeches instigated by the social media do reflect the prevalence of chauvinism, bigotry, discrimination and intolerance in the Ethiopian community, as precursors of crimes against humanity.

Speeches are nothing but reflection of intent that may be hate or love. Where communal hate is cross-fertilized and extended to the wider society, it leads to social conflicts. Consequently, it creates the normalization of prejudice, expressed in hate speech. When hate speech goes unchallenged, it can stabilize and create conditions for accepting prejudice and bigotry. People become acquainted with and accept discriminatory attitudes. Hate speech become socially acceptable behavior which people become adapted to. Adaptation perpetuates cycles of discrimination, favoritism, unfairness, and nepotism.

Social cohesion and trust is eroded by means of hate speech, which breaks community ties. It causes division among communities along ethnic, religious, or ideological lines. Ethnic divisions become rampant to the extent of breaking down law and order in the country that is ethnically delineated. In this situation hate speech becomes a dangerous means of breaking down trust within communities.

In fact, it fosters distrust and propagates local enmity among people of the same community or society. A critical instrument of enmity is hate speech spread by the social media which may have to be controlled by local authorities without much ado, commotion and excitement. The first step in this direction is to bring under control those persons who constantly engage in hate speeches, writings and expressions. These persons plant the trees of hate and animosity among different groups.

Is so doing, they hinder cooperation and mutual understanding in the society. The negative impact of hate speech on democracy is immense. In democratic societies, it can undermine, weaken and undercut the principles of equality and tolerance. These factors are critical determinants of the essential elements for a functioning democracy.

Hate speech has to be strictly checked and controlled before it causes the destruction or elimination of the essential elements of democracy in democratic countries. In the developing countries, where democracy is in its infancy, hate speech seems to be the trend and style of partisan behavior of party apparatchiks. It is common to observe partisans exchanging words of hate. The defamation of personalities or leaders of political parties seems to be the rule rather than the exception. In so doing, party apparatchiks may manipulate public opinion and suppress dissenting voices. They tend to encourage and support extremist ideology if they believed it helps them retain power.

Education and free speech are hindered by hate speech that may create hostile environments. In educational institutions the learning process is hindered by partisan groups that intend to influence teachers and students to be adherents of their policy. Similarly, at the workplaces, party functionaries impede the production process in trying to enforce their policy and program. They also commit the same acts in public spaces, seeking collaboration in exchanging ideas in favor of their party programs.

In so doing, they may silence marginalized voices and limit freedom of expression using hate speech through the social media. All these acts result in the escalation of conflict. Hate speech has the potential to escalate conflicts, both domestically and externally. It can exacerbate tensions between different groups, leading to polarization and unrest. It may even lead to violent conflict in public places.

Exposure to hate speech through various forms of media, including social media, can have detrimental effects. It may cause mistrust among colleagues or even relatives. The role of media is crucial in creating both peace and war. It may even cause mental disorder among individuals. Lack of mental health contributes to stress and trauma.

Faced with hate speech, individuals may feel a sense of powerlessness. They begin to be suspicious of friends, acquaintances, and even their family members. Lack of trust becomes the rule of community members. They become suspicious of persons residing in their neighborhood.

If the society is to survive at all, it is a crucial to address the social impacts of hate speech. This helps in promoting education and awareness about the consequences and impacts of hate speech. In this process, it is useful to foster inclusive and respectful dialogue.

Ethiopians have to learn lessons from the Rwandan Genocide, that lasted only 100 days in 1994 as one of the most dishonorable and disreputable genocide in modern times. Nearly one million ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed as the international community and UN peacekeepers stood by watching. Under the presidency of Paul Kagame, Rwanda has a majority-female parliament. Ethiopia may adopt Rwandan policy that control hate speech, promote equality, equity and, consequently, social cohesion in the country.

Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald



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