by Hana Kojaković, Media Diversity Institute, UK.
Hate speech is a consistent, continuous battle we are faced with and exposed to on a daily basis, a phenomenon which comes in various shapes and sizes one of which includes religious intolerance. Get The Trolls Out! is a project aimed at combatting discrimination and intolerance based on religious grounds in Europe. The lead partner, The Media Diversity Institute, based in the UK, alongside the support and partnership of seven organisations spread across Europe, works collaboratively to combat religious hate both online and offline. Partner organisations include the Center for Independent Journalism in Hungary, the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association in Poland, the European Network on Religion and Belief and the European Union of Jewish Students in Belgium, The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism in France, Karpos in Greece, and the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung in Germany. The project, using a combination of strategies and activities from media monitoring to campaigning, harnesses the power of social media to encourage dialogue and provide the necessary tools for countering hateful narratives on religious grounds. Get The Trolls Out! is built on four key priorities and objectives which help guide the process of countering religious hate speech. This includes reducing religious hate speech, intolerance, and discrimination within the European media sphere, and empowering civil society organisations to identity and expose intolerance, xenophobia and hatred aimed towards religious groups across Europe. Get The Trolls Out! also seeks to challenge stereotypes, debunk extremist mythology and conspiracy narratives by promoting inclusive content and leveraging both traditional and new media platforms. Lastly, by consolidating the network of human rights defenders and youth activists, the project aims to fight and challenge the rise of intolerance and discrimination in Europe.
Get The Trolls Out! uses a combination of strategies to achieve these aims. The main activities include the use of media monitoring across all seven European countries to detect, highlight and react to anti-religious hate speech and discourse by both private and public figures in traditional and new media. Based on these outcomes, project partners expose and counter hateful, anti-religious narratives with the appropriate, suitable mechanisms. These range from the production of articles and videos, blog posts, letters and meeting with editors and heads of policy, as well as the reporting of hate speech to social media platforms. Another priority is to engage in dialogue with leading IT companies, including META and Twitter, to find mechanisms to monitor and counter hate speech online.
The power of social media is utilised for countering and exposing religious discrimination and intolerance including educating individuals on hateful discourses and antisemitic, Islamophobic and anti-Christian sentiment. Often, videos are produced and shared on social media which work to debunk anti-religious stereotypes whilst simultaneously providing a platform for personal testimonies and experiences, thereby, providing a voice to the community itself to speak rather than be spoken for. Cumulatively, this allows for raising awareness of hate speech and its consequences. Accompanying these activities is the production of memes as a means to counter hateful messages and discrimination within this sphere.
Education and training, which are vital and important activities of the project, provide both short-term and sustainable mechanisms of countering hateful narratives and anti-religious intolerance across Europe. By providing the tools and techniques for detecting and reacting to hate speech both online and offline, individuals are presented with the capacity to counter religious intolerance and hateful sentiments. Once detected and exposed, counter narratives help to deconstruct and weaken rhetoric built on the grounds of intolerance, thereby, undermining their existence. Awareness raising campaigns and the harnessing of a myriad of tools and techniques to challenge these beliefs and narratives helps expose the hatred and discrimination which motivate such sentiments. By undermining their existence, counter narratives provide a platform of non-discrimination. These can take the shape and form of debunking, data analysis, and use of humour in order to not only challenge, but also attempt to influence the debates at hand by changing the frame of discussion.
Throughout the project, Get The Trolls Out! has developed numerous resources to inform, educate, and expose antisemitic and Islamophobic narratives. This includes several guides to help individuals detect and react to hateful discourse including Fantastic Trolls and how to fight them and Stopping Hate: How to Counter Hate Speech on Twitter? Alongside these, there have been a number of resources to help combat antisemitism and Islamophobia in the online and offline media spaces; the Linguistic Self-Defence Guide Against Antisemitism and the Linguistic Guide Against Islamophobia. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a noticeable rise in conspiracy narratives taking the shape and form of antisemitic rhetoric alongside the American based QAnon conspiracy theory resulting in a series of collaborative report being researched and published by partners of the project; QAnon and the growing conspiracy theory trend on social media and QAnon 2: spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Currently, Get The Trolls Out! is organising an upcoming Diversity & Religion Exhibition in collaboration with the Diversity and Inclusion Research Community at the University of Westminster. The event encourages individuals to submit artworks related to the theme of ‘Diversity & Religion’ in Europe in an attempt to counter hateful narratives by promoting human right stories. The week-long exhibit is set to take place at the University of Westminster at the end of February 2023.
Hana Kojaković, Project Assistant at Media Diversity Institute, UK