There is no gain without risks - How to handle the pitfalls of the internet and unleashed hatred?

When cars became more and more common a hundred years ago, many things had to be reconsidered and rearranged. Today the world of the internet creates numerous challenges that we have not faced before. Our child may become a victim while sitting in the safety of his or her room, alone and quiet; anonymous strangers may badmouth any of us; and the shared contents of anyone may reach thousands. Many parents and teachers would be likely to respond to the dangers of the internet with prohibition. However, making a responsible decision through informing ourselves of the potential gains and risks is a much better solution than prohibition. Because the same way as there is no gain without risks, there are no functionable democracies without curious and responsible citizens either. Thanks to Hope to the Children Association (Reményt a Gyermekeknek Egyesület), Bookmarks (Böngésző), a publication that supports the work of teachers and other youth workers by providing information on the theory and practice of recognising and handling internet harrasment and hate speech has been published in Hungarian. 

Generalising statements made against the members of various social groups that aim to instill negative feelings in the receiver towards the members of given groups can be considered hate speech. Offending others with generalising taunts can be harmful even in our everyday – offline –  life. However, there is a difference between doing this by a table in the pub, or online, where we can reach as many people as only journalists or public personalities used to be able to. Also, we are less likely to make extreme and deeply offensive comments while sitting face to face with someone and having our identity (our face and name) open and visible. But on the internet we can hide our identity and do not have to look the other in the eye, so it is a lot easier to make derogatory comments. This creates a heightened level of risk for victims, because there is a big difference between being humilated in front of three people, or on a social media site, possibly in front of thousands. Additionally, as a result we can expect offensive attacks not only on the street or in various community spaces, but even in our homes, when all we want is to chat with our friends or listen to some music. 

Young people are the most vulnerable to online hatred and harrassment. The online reality can often be more defining to them than the offline world, and so online harrassment (or ongoing harassment, which may go on 24 hours a day) can be a lot more offensive to them – Bálint Jósa, staff member of  Subjective Values Foundation (Szubjektív Értékek Alapítvány) said, who took part in the implementation of the project. At the same time, young people are more likely to become online bullies, sources of hatred as well. They can attack their peers while sitting quietly in their rooms, driven by frustrations that even their parents or teachers may not know about. Beside children, various minorities and women also often become targets of hatred; which is not surprising, since all kinds of statements appear in public discourse, from subtle jokes about various groups to statements that incite to the physical abuse of  members of given groups.

„Bookmarks”, created by the Council of Europe and published and localised in and to Hungarian as „Böngésző (Browser)”, contains exercises and information that help young people get close-up with the topic. Through modelling certain situations and discussing the possible responses to them they get to debate topics that pose serious issues in their lives, in a playful setting. What does it feel like to be teased and offended as the member of a minority group? What can be done if you start harassing others just to impress your peers? What would you do if you were the other? And how can members of the group – modelling the operation of democratic institutions – come up with arguments, following certain considerations, and eventually come to a decision together? These exercises are important for the development of young people not only in terms of safe internet use, but also with regard to community co-existence and taking democratic responsibility. Because there is no point in responding to hatred with agression or domineering statements, but with an open and sensible dialogue instead, where all parties are treated as partners – with „Soft words”, as the title of the project suggests.

Trainings related to Bookmarks have been held in the past two years, where experts, teachers and NGO’s had the chance to take part in practical exercises that they can also use in their own groups. The collection contains short and long, simple and complex exercises as well, so it can be useful for anyone, from those that plan to dedicate a whole semester to the topic to those that wish to hold just a single class related to it. Integrating this training material into general education would be an importang goal; in fact, there are plans of officially recommending this to the Ministry – Lilla Nedeczky, the leader of the project told us. But to what extent any curriculum or recommendation may effect actual changes in education is still a question. Because even though a media awareness training (related in its topic) that would enable young people to become aware and responsible media users has, in theory, been going on for 10 years in Hungary, only 27% of the teachers holding such trainings have the relevant qualifications, and schools dedicate such a small amount of teaching hours to media that there is hardly any chance for actual knowledge transfer and raising awareness – Krisztina Bácskai, staff member of the Ombudsman’s Office believes.

But instead of speculating future possibilities, there is probably more point in mentioning real successes. The young people that took part in the training had the chance to implement 20 sample projects of their own, where they raised the awareness of their peers to hate speech with various tools (sports events, workshops, theatre plays, exhibitions, videos, board games, and in many other ways), since this topic needs to be debated with honesty and reflected upon in a creative and personal way. Not to mention the importance of reporting unacceptable statements on social media sites. It was young people that took part in the training that reported, for example, the „Migránsvadász” (Migrant hunter) and Ultras Liberti pages to Facebook, which both openly incited against migrants. Thanks to their taking action, these pages have been disabled.

photo: Zsolt Püspüki (Gábor 27 „The tattoed” – Gábor Pintér, assistant working with disabled children, amateur poet)

From among the  sample projects, the photo exhibition titled ”Do not judge by first sight!” (Ne ítélj elsőre!), in which the Children and Youth Council of Orosháza introduces people living the city through double portraits, has proven to be the most popular based on audience votes. While one photo shows each person in a stereotypical way (as a peasant, blond woman, Roma person or tattooed guy), the other one shows the real face of the person and tells us about his or her profession that refutes the stereotype. The jury awarded the first prize to the board game titled ”Human rights game masters” (Emberi jogi játékmesterek).