How to counter the spread of hate crimes on social media

Failing to regulate extremist content on their platforms, tech giants such as Facebook and YouTube would have to offer opposing or alternative viewpoints, according to Jack McDevittdirector of Northeastern’s Institute on Race and Justice.

McDevitt, who has studied hate crimes since the 1990s, says social media has become “fertile ground” for people like the alleged perpetrators of the shooting during a Friday afternoon prayer service at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed and more than 30 injured.

The attack was would have been warned on Twitter and 8chan, streamed live on Facebook, and shared widely on YouTube and Reddit. As videos, messages and photos of the massacre proliferated, the social media giants hosting the content came under scrutiny for not acting faster to prevent its spread.

“Social media has become fertile ground for some of these people, and one of the things that is troubling, or at least a challenge, is: do we stay away from these sites, or do we try to counter-program the site, try to offer an alternative point of view?” said McDevitt.

Jack McDevitt. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Rather than giving free rein to extremist ideas, McDevitt suggests that tech companies approach the problem the way colleges do when they welcome a controversial speaker to campus.

“If a speaker comes to a college campus and says, ‘I want to talk about hate and talk about groups that don’t belong to our society,’ one of the things we tend to do is have alternative speakers. on campus who present the alternative point of view, and I think we need to do that on social media as well,” he says.

In an increasingly globalized world, the internet makes it easier for people to find camaraderie in others who share their views, McDevitt says. In the case of perpetrators such as those believed to be behind the Christchurch attacks, social media allows them to meet others who reinforce their prejudices and allow them to spread their ideas, no matter how radical, d a simple click of the mouse.

“Our research on hate crime perpetrators shows that they are surprised when society comes to arrest them or blame them for the crime, because they think people share their biases and think no one will care if they act. “says McDevitt.

A contributing factor to this “hate globalization” is that ideas spread faster because it’s an English-speaking world, says Gordana Rabrenovićdirector of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict to North-east.

“We have to be responsible for what we say, and we are responsible because we reach this large audience,” she says.

Gordana Rabrenović. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

McDevitt says the incident bore similarities to others that came before it, particularly in the United States, where mass shootings are commonplace. Similar to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the perpetrators carefully planned their attack and targeted their victims at a time when they were particularly vulnerable, he says.

“It’s so sad when people are attacked while practicing their religion, any religion,” he said. “It’s just such an intrusion into who we are as individuals that it’s incredibly sad and incredibly threatening.”

According to McDevitt and Rabrenovic, the greatest commonality among perpetrators of mass shootings is that they tend to blame groups other than themselves for their misfortunes and mislabel these communities as criminals. Before the Christchurch shooting, someone who appeared to be the shooter posted links to an 87-page manifesto would have filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideas. In the manifest, the shooter would have referred to President Trump as “a symbol of a renewed white identity and common purpose”, while deriding him as “a decision-maker and a leader”.

Rabrenovic, who is also an associate professor of sociology and education at Northeastern, says the lesson is “we have to keep our leaders accountable because they are setting the stage.”

“They have a scene through mass media. This is how the messages are reproduced, because the media captures them, talks about them and then legitimizes them.

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