How can journalists avoid hate speech?
In its most general form, hate speech can be defined as expression that exposes a person or group to offensive messages targeting them on the basis of language, ethnic identity, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation or other factors.
Hate speech, or discrimination in general, harms our socially desired common life in many ways. Therefore, this discourse should be avoided by all segments of society. The media has a special place among these segments. This is because the media’s power to reach the masses and its ability to direct and narrate social events distinguishes it from other actors and parties.
It can be said that the media, which has this important power, also plays a role in the widespread hate speech. We can encounter hate speech generated through the media in texts, text titles, sub-headings, images and visual superscripts. All kinds of texts and visuals used to convey the news can contain hate speech. In this article, I have tried to collect tips that can help journalists to avoid hate speech.
How do we detect hate speech?
There are many laws or ethical agreements that prohibit hate speech or say that it is harmful to society and should not be used. Although some countries and institutions use them, it is more valuable for people to learn what is flawed and wrong in hate speech before legal requirements.
“How do we recognize a text that has a flawed discourse?”, this is the first thing to understand. Here, we can benefit from the three basic questions that the Hrant Dink Foundation has adopted in its media monitoring work.
1- Is there an identity being portrayed?
At this stage, the following should be asked: Does the news text contain an expression targeting an identity or not? Some news reports directly target identity. While this can be understood very easily, some news reports may emphasize the identity adopted by the person directly instead of naming countries or people. Here, since the existence of the identity can be associated with any bad act or event, it carries a potential for hate speech.
2- How is this identity approached, if at all?
Once we have found the expression against the identity, we should ask how the identity is approached. At this level, if an offensive, hateful, accusing, targeting expression is used against an identity, we can conclude that it carries discriminatory messages against the identity. Because no bad message can be associated with an identity. This is problematic discourse that should be avoided in any text.
3- What might be the impact of this approach on the identity in the text?
It is sometimes difficult to directly see the consequences of discursively expressed forms of discrimination. This can sometimes lead to wrong inferences based on causality or, on the contrary, to inferences that there are no bad consequences. However, hate speech directly or indirectly affects the daily lives of the targeted identities: prejudices against the groups and individuals targeted by hate speech may increase, the frequency of these individuals’ public appearances may decrease, and these effects may directly or indirectly cause mental health problems and health problems in the long run.
What should be considered to avoid generating hate speech?
In response to the question “How can we avoid generating hate speech?”, we can list the following suggestions based on my experience in the media monitoring work of the Hrant Dink Foundation and the guidelines on this subject.
When talking about the actions of countries, do not emphasize identities
The intensity of the political agenda, with its many conflicts and conflicts, opens many spaces for the production of hate speech. Therefore, both past and current conflicts can surface. Taking advantage of these conflicts, news reports can generalize the conflict between countries to identities and portray it as a clash of identities. This can reveal the identities of the countries mentioned in the tense situation as targets. For this reason, in order to avoid generating hate speech, events for which institutions are responsible should not be portrayed through identities.
Do not emphasize identity when discussing a forensic incident
While identities are an important dynamic for people to define themselves, associating criminal or more generally bad acts with identity creates a false causality in explaining people’s actions. At the same time, it can create many stereotypes about identity. For this reason, emphasizing identity when talking about an incident is not only problematic in terms of causality but also generates hate speech.
Do not associate identities with negative adjectives
Negative characterization of identities in newspapers can reinforce many prejudices against the identity in question. In addition, the use of a negative adjective for an identity negatively affects all stakeholders of the identity by putting them under suspicion.
Do not position identities against each other
Sometimes news reports deal with the actions of two groups or individuals who are thought to have different identities. In this way, the news report creates an unrealistic situation by referring to identities and attributing the representation of those identities to two individuals. Moreover, this confrontation often creates a hierarchy between identities and sends messages about who is better and who is worse.
Do not symbolize identity, do not associate the symbolized identity with another identity
While hate speech can be constructed in a more superficial, conspicuous manner, such as the examples given above, a multi-layered construction of discourse is also possible. In this style of hate speech, identity is symbolized by associating it with a bad act, event or adjective. It is then used to define other acts and events. The Hrant Dink Foundation media study defines this as “the use of a natural element of identity as a hate insult”. In simpler terms, this hate speech uses socially entrenched discrimination, hatred and racism by giving identity with a sub-message.
Do not broadcast hate speech, and if you do, put it in a specific context
In addition to their own texts, media professionals may also report other people’s statements on the basis of the public’s right to be heard. However, people whose statements are reported in the media may generate hate speech. The Guidelines recommend not publishing hate speech in order to prevent its circulation. Beyond this, they also suggest that if the statement is to be published, it should be stated that it is hate speech and that it is not a neutral, harmless statement like other statements. There is also a discussion here about the impartiality of journalists. However, neutrality against discrimination is not recommended by any of the guidelines. In addition, if the journalist cannot call hate speech with the discourse he or she has created, he or she can include the opposing viewpoint of another person in the article. In this way, hate speech does not go unanswered.
In some cases, hate speech in the text may stem from the one-sided production of the news article. For this reason, giving equal voice to the identities mentioned in the news article can show us that the accusations and prejudices against this identity are wrong.