• Published Date: 13/09/2019
  • by: UNDP

Hate Speech = Violence – Are we unwittingly perpetuating violence?

Hate Speech = Violence

Are we unwittingly perpetuating violence?

Violence is not only the product of hostile actions, but also hurtful words. A mere set of letters can incite violence whether they be face-to-face or online. Today we’re looking into hate speech. Whether intentional and unknowingly made, hate speech can leave hurt and bitterness that is like poison, feeding further hate that time and time again spawns violence.

Hate speech is speech or communication that is meant to incite contempt or animosity between individuals or groups of people. It is often a direct attack on their identities such as race, skin color, religion, gender, occupation, political ideology or other attributes that may be used to divide, demean one’s human dignity or generate further hostility. This, unwittingly done or not, can incite violence when people refuse to listen to each other and show no tolerance.



Cyberbullying: bullying in the virtual world

The internet has become the number one place to spawn hate speech. Because anyone has access and openly express their opinion, bully others with demeaning, threatening or aggressive words. This form of bullying has increasingly become common and somewhat a norm in the digital age, from criticizing someone’s appearance on Facebook, mocking or quarrelling via status updates, to a bully’s live-streaming their taunt. What’s more, at times the media, both big and small, would capitalize on cyberbullying and give it disproportionate coverage, making certain “feuds” the talk of the town while also normalizing bullying in our society.

What’s alarming about cyberbullying is something similar to  ‘a witch-hunt’,  the actual practice of hunting down those believed to be “witches” or practising black magic in medieval Europe. Many innocent lives fell victim to witch-hunting. The act also included torture and executions. In modern usage, the term has come to signify a widespread social media phenomenon – the online attack on someone by uncovering their history, twisting stories, and find controversial facts that can besmirch, persecute and shame that person publicly.


Labelling: a careless conception of stigma

One of the reasons contributing to the violence of hate speech is nevertheless ‘Labelling’ and the use of discourse to deviate or judge ‘human’ without really knowing the cause of other person’s appearance or behaviour. Labelling doesn’t only happen at factories. Humans often identify and react to labels, as defined in the Labelling Theory, and perpetuate false ideas about a certain deviance from the norm. This kind of labelling is used to brand, divide and formulate a preconception about someone without really knowing them. A clear example would be the case of LGBTQ+ people who are judged, seen as “abnormal” and deviant from what society has established as norms. They are also believed to be unsuccessful in love and relationships, a failure in life or a clown in people’s eyes. What’s worse is that some media are still perpetuating these notions, further entrenching them as social norms.

Another example of labelling is judging people by their place of origin. For example, the idea that being from the south of Thailand means one has dark skin, that highlanders cannot enunciate well or don’t keep up with the world, or that a person from the northeast is clumsy and has a big jawline. Northeasterners are also often “derided” as “being Lao” for these stereotypes. From these instances, we can see how labelling someone without knowing them, without thinking about the implications, is something people pay little to no attention to. They fail to see that beneath all of it is hate and violence.



Climate Change: as harsh as the climate

Climate change plays a role in changing our understanding of things, in that we automatically make certain judgements based on our subjectivity. For instance, the PM 2.5 dust at the root of a clash between people living in the city and forest dwellers: the former thought the latter caused pollution because they burned the forest whereas the latter said it was the carbon emissions from factories and cars in urban areas that were to blame. Both may have forgotten that they didn’t know each other’s story.

Or in the case of plastic pollution. Those with lower income are often thought of as the biggest users of plastic because they can’t afford biodegradable materials which are more expensive, or that they never had awareness about the issue. In reality, however, everyone shares the blame for creating plastic waste. And anyone can be a part of the collective effort to tackle climate change.



Politics: violence under the surface

In his speech at the public seminar Online Hate Speech: The Pain that Needs Accountability, organized by the 8th class ISRA Institute Thai Press Development Foundation’s Mass Communication Administration for Broadcasting trainees, Dr. Mark Charoenwong, Attorney at the Office of the Attorney General in Thailand, noted that the most common type of hate speech in Thailand is violent political hate speech.

The more intense Thailand’s political landscape is, the starker the difference in ideology and the fierier the hate speech. In the time of distinct political polarization, it’s common to see people openly express their contrasting viewpoints to the point of aggression and hostility. They may take these viewpoints to the streets, and what follows can sometimes be physical violence and repercussions on society at large.

On top of hate speech is among people with differing political ideologies, this type of attack is used by our politicians and lawmakers to shoot down their oppositions on the basis of race, gender, age and appearance, whether in or outside the House of Parliament.



Case Study: Crying in Public, New York, USA

Express what you feel through an emoji.

Hate speech oftentimes springs from the feeling of resentment, conflicting opinions or anger. Words are said to hurt, incite hate, and ultimately provoke violence. Rather than suppressing them, these negative feelings should be released or remedied. Today, many countries are still short of space where people can release difficult feelings and emotions.

Kate Ray, an architect based in Greenpoint, New York City, offered her solution by creating Crying in Public (https://cryinginpublic.com), a website where people can express their emotions, sparked by everything from their surroundings, relationships, people’s slants, to life itself – and mark where they’re felt on a map of the city. Political opinions are also openly welcome on the platform, and there’s no worry about answering uncomfortable questions. To express their emotions, all users have to do is pin a corresponding emoji, for example, a fire means job termination, a peach signifies a sexual encounter, a hammer suggests an ideology or innovative idea, whereas a cat means you’ve just met, very specifically, a New York cornershop cat.

There are many more emojis that are not mentioned, like those that represent our down moments and tears. Even though these feelings are expressed virtually through emojis, the release would make us feel a lot (or a little) lighter. And this means no bottled up feelings lashing out as hate speech and a risk of violence.


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