My Voice is Louder Than Hate, MediaSmarts’ latest resource, uses digital storytelling and meme making tools to encourage youth to push back when they encounter hate online.
Youth don’t have to encounter overt hate speech to be exposed to hate online. In fact, much more common are cultures of hatred: communities in which racism, misogyny and other forms of prejudice are normalized. Not only do these communities and platforms become unfriendly and sometimes unsafe environments for members of targeted groups but hatemongers will often ‘troll’ mainstream sites, making hateful comments to provoke a reaction and/or elicit sympathetic comments.
Exposure to online prejudice and hate can have much more serious effects than simply making people uncomfortable or unwelcome: studies have shown that experiencing discrimination online can cause stress, anxiety and depression. Additionally, the connected, networked nature of online communities – and the potentially limitless pools of potential recruits and targets this provides – allows hate movements to make this hate speech appear to be more acceptable in online spaces.It’s important to teach youth to push back when they see any type of online hate because even so-called “casual prejudice” (such as racist memes that aren’t aimed at a specific person) can help hate movements grow.
“I wish we learned more about casual prejudice in school… I don’t think most teenagers know they are being prejudiced with the things they say online.” —Respondent, Young Canadians Pushing Back Against Hate Online
Teenagers and young adults are prime targets for hate groups because many are looking for groups or causes that will give them a sense of identity. Identity seeking is a natural part of adolescence but, taken to its extreme, this can provide a toehold for hate mongers and hate groups of all kinds who are skilled at finding youth who might be vulnerable to hate messages.
Unlike other MediaSmarts resources on online hate, My Voice is Louder Than Hate focuses specifically on casual prejudice online: when someone says or does things that are negative towards a particular group (and not aimed at a specific person). For example, if someone uses a racist term in a comment, or shares a meme of a person with a disability to make a joke.
Recent research from MediaSmarts found that while youth feel it is important to speak up when they see hate online, many are reluctant to do so because they don’t know what to do, they’re afraid of making a situation worse, or they’re not sure if a situation is genuinely an example of prejudice, and a sense that doing so violates social norms, and risks social cohesion My Voice is Louder Than Hate is designed to expose the “majority illusion” that can make prejudice seem normal online and aims to empower youth to be the “noisy 10 percent” that sets a community’s values.
In any community, online or offline, the social norms – what’s seen as acceptable and unacceptable – are largely set by the most committed 10 percent of community members. This segment is often those who have the strongest opinions and beliefs, which may include prejudice to outright hate. As a result, if community members do not actively push back against hatred and prejudice, these beliefs can come to be seen as the norm for that community, resulting in a vicious cycle that makes it harder and harder to speak out against prejudice and hatred. At the same time, there is evidence that relatively small efforts to push back against hate speech can be successful if they are seen as coming from within the community.
My Voice is Louder Than Hate focuses on the factors that make young people more likely to speak out against hateful speech online in order to empower them to push back against it: if they knew that online hate was genuinely hurtful; if they thought that most of their peers agreed with them; if they had seen other people do something about it; if they had seen people face consequences for posting hate content; if they had a clear knowledge of how they could use platform tools to respond.The multimedia platform helps Grade 9 to 12 students explore ways to respond to prejudice online. They will experience how others have pushed back against hate; learn and practice how to respond in different situations; and share their own thoughts and experiences.
The platform features a digital storytelling tool that lets students combine images, text, music and narration to make digital stories and a meme maker that lets students respond to prejudice in a light-hearted way. It’s accompanied by the following two lesson plans:
- The Impact of Hate allows students to explore how interacting through digital media can make it easier to hurt someone’s feelings and can make hurtful or prejudiced behaviour seem normal in online spaces. They learn how Canadian youth feel about and respond to casual prejudice online and then use the My Voice is Louder Than Hate multimedia tool to create a digital story that will help people understand that online hate hurts everyone who witnesses it.
- Pushing Back Against Hate helps students explore the benefits and drawbacks of being “full citizens” online. They learn reasons why Canadian youth sometimes do not push back when they witness casual prejudice online and then use the My Voice is Louder Than Hate interactive tool to practice different ways of responding. Finally, students analyze memes as a medium and a way of responding to hate or other hurtful behaviour online and then use the My Voice is Louder Than Hate interactive tool to create a meme that they can use to push back against causal prejudice.
As well, the resources are supported by a training workshop to prepare teachers to deliver these lessons and deal with any difficult conversations that may take place as a result and a teachers’ guide, which provides an expanded discussion of topics such as online hate, casual prejudice, dehumanization and digital citizenship and detailed instructions on how to present the lessons in a way that will be emotionally safe for students.
There’s no doubt that Canadian students want to do the right thing when they encounter hate and prejudice online. With My Voice is Louder Than Hate, teachers can get them ready to make a difference.
My Voice is Louder Than Hate was made possible with financial contributions from Public Safety Canada’s Community Resilience Fund