If the internet turned information accessible to a higher number of people, it also helped spread hate speech, which has been fueling online and offline polarization. Concerned about that, the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence – a European academic research network focused on researching the violent online political extremism and responses to it – released a report with a comparative study on hate in social media. Horizons Of Hate: A Comparative Approach to Social Media Hate Speech was published this year and it was produced by the lecturer in Global Digital Media at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Matti Pohjonen.


To understand the roots of online hate speech, Mr. Pohjonen used three groups on social media as case study. One was an anti-refugee and anti-immigration Facebook group that was criticized for spreading hate speech and has been linked to the far right. The second one was an anti-racist Facebook group that stood against the first. And the third group was one that aimed to dialogue between the two previous groups.


Aggressive or hateful comments were found in all the groups studied. One interesting finding is the fact aggressive comments seem to be more common in the evening than in other parts of the day. According to the study, this behaviour is usually associated with two factors: an individual’s pre-existing mood to write such messages or discussion context that leads individuals to express aggressive or hateful opinions.


The report claims as one of the reasons for the high levels of hate speech online, the high polarization in the society and the new extreme right method of dealing with news. It has taken the role previously maintained by mainstream news companies and is characterized by a new way of reporting the news, which has a more extreme narrative that reaches audiences already predisposed to react in an extreme way to this kind of information and shares it online.


The report associates directly the levels of hate speech online to the levels of polarization the society is facing nowadays, indicating polarization seems to be a greater problem than the spread of hate speech itself.


The report concludes the study of online hate speech can help understand how different ideas and perspectives that exist in society have reached opposite sides, indicating the incapacity of having a debate where opposite opinions can be presented and coexist in a health way. Moreover, the growing polarization verified in different countries can be understood as a side effect of the spread of online hate speech, which in turn, ends up fueling the lack of dialogue among people who have different beliefs, harming social cohesion in a way that may impact hate crime offences registered in the streets.


By Bernardo Laranja (UFRJ / Brazil)

For more information, access: https://www.voxpol.eu/download/vox-pol_publication/Horizons-of-Hate.pdf