Facebook and the conundrum of hate speech

“As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media”, said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

“I can’t live with or without you”, I considered such title but decided it would be too much. Facebook is a thing, not a person. Simply a social media platform and, most of the time, a useful one for certain interaction with friends, colleagues and work.

As we know, it easily connects people and just as easily breaks them apart. I usually ‘flee’ from the latest controversy, debate, back-and-forth comments because I 1) don’t think as fast as other respondents 2) think too much what words to choose and to use because words are important 3) would rather join face to face conversation 4) want to engage with friends and people I know because only they will value my opinion 5) don’t think I can actually change someone’s mind with few short comments 6) don’t want to get in ‘cross fire’ if the conversation is aggressive 7) and don’t want to spend time creating more and more ‘hot air’. If there is anything this world has more than enough, it is “hot air”.

But unfortunately and tragically this virtual ‘hot air’ can become real, violent and simply evil fire. Last week again there were two instances where Facebook as a community platform had to acknowledge it has been used effectively in stirring hate and prejudice. Facebook removed the pages of the anti-Islamic group ‘Britain First’ and its leaders because of repeated violations of FB community standards. I would say not just FB but most of the British society’s standards. I know friends in the UK who are working very hard to foster relationships and bring healing to hurting communities and they have criticized ‘Britain First’ for long time.

The other story was even more painful and more personal since it involved Myanmar/Burma. When I started ‘peaceroads’ blog three years ago, it was inspired by many years of working with refugees from Myanmar and living on Thailand – Myanmar border. And now U.N. human rights experts investigating abuses and violence against the Rohingya Muslim people in Myanmar say that Facebook has played a major role in spreading the hate messages and inciting the violence. I cannot read Burmese but I do know one racial slur which Facebook had already banned in 2017.

Fortunately I have not had to ‘censor’ any of my FB friends for hateful comments but many of us have expressed loads of stereotypes, fear of different groups and called for certain ‘exclusion’. There have been a few situations where I wrote my friends (in a personal message) and tried to explain why I thought their comments were not helpful, but harmful. And I have ‘unfollowed’ few people because their posts were too frequent and too zealous in their desire to prove their point. But I have never ‘unfriended’ anyone just because they have different opinion and views from mine. I don’t want to insulate myself with people who all think alike because that is exactly one of the big problems of our day. These group ‘bubbles’ we live in.

The people with ‘bad’ intentions do not hesitate to take advantage of social media while people ‘good’ intentions often wonder if it is worth it. It can also be very difficult and scary to express your opinion when you already know what possibly aggressive and angry reaction your posts will get. For example, if the Christians who are a religious minority in Myanmar were to stand up for the Muslims who are even smaller religious minority, they would be in a very difficult position. If the Karen or any other people who are an ethnic minority were to stand up for the Rohingya who are ethnic minority, they would be in a very difficult position.

In Myanmar, UK, Latvia, Russia, Nigeria, USA, (you name the country)… social media has been and will be used used to enforce prejudice, stereotypes and to incite discrimination against certain groups. Based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, social status, ideology and any other way we like to define the ‘other’.  As long as people (with growing robot enforcement) communicate, this issue of hate speech stays with us and we have to discern what contributes to it and what does not. And what to do about it.

My hope and desire is to use this blog as one of many tools to suck out some of this ‘hot air’ from our online interactions. What are your tools? Suggestions?

I don’t want to be another brick in the wall

Few days ago I was giving a lecture on peace building and reconciliation and our group had a very good discussion about some of the issues and challenges that our societies are facing. It was in a religious context but the principles of good and healthy relationships vs bad and broken ones are the same whether you are religious or not.

One of the big issues seems to be a lack of good and healthy dialogue where people can express their views without being stereotyped or dehumanized or even demonized. Posting your thoughts on Facebook or other social media only goes so far. Very often it becomes just another platform for deepening our conflicts. Personally I do not get involved in discussions on social media because I feel that it is not very productive. Written words can be misunderstood so easily and people can say things with less responsibility than saying it to your face.

Many of my church friends have expressed that there is a lack of teaching on conflict resolution and lack of discussion about divisive topics in the Christian community. So, the conflicts rage and many of the words said or written are very ‘un-Christian’. Others who are the by-standers feel ashamed, confused, overwhelmed, unequipped and powerless to contribute something positive.

I have another problem. I tend to be so careful with my words that sometimes I say too little about things that really matter to me. I keep thinking about the proverb, “You cannot put out the fire if you keep adding more wood.” I don’t want to be a part of the problem but part of the solution. And we desperately need to learn being better listeners and better analyzers and better critical thinkers. I feel a sense of great urgency.

I have shared my thoughts on the topic of ‘listening’ in earlier posts and surely I will have to return to this theme again and again. Because this is truly one of the most difficult things in our communication with each other. Especially when talking about controversial or emotional issues. We do not listen because we don’t want to. We don’t want to change our views, our stereotypes and assumptions. We feel threatened.

There is a lot of suspicion going around. “When the other does not behave or speak according to our mental picture of them, we suspect their motives” or “we develop a “conspiracy complex”, anticipating that “they” want to harm us” (quotes from teaching by Musalaha)

We also fail to see a plurality on the other side. What group do you have stereotypes about? Religious groups? American evangelicals? Devout Muslims? Everyone in your government? Everyone in mainstream media? Ethnics groups? Russians? Latvians? Fill in the blanks…

This is where I dare to disagree with the man who currently dominates the global news. I am not talking about the policies or actual achievements because time will tell. But I am speaking about our words and blanket statements. American president Donald Trump often speaks in a way that enforces these stereotypes when using phrases like “dishonest media” or “drain the swamp”. The media has all kinds of people – honest and dishonest, professional and unprofessional, impartial and bias. The government also has all kinds of people – serving others and serving themselves, just and corrupt, professional and unprofessional.

To be fair – Mr. Trump is easy to criticize because he is saying things on a world stage for all to see. But what about us? What about me? My communication does not have the same affect but it matters as much.

If we are really concerned about the divisions and polarized views around us, then we need to make sure that we are not becoming bricks that build even higher walls.

hannovere-48

(photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Nesen vadīju nodarbību par miera celšanu un izlīgumu, un mūsu grupā izveidojās ļoti laba diskusija par dažādiem aktuāliem jautājumiem un izaicinājumiem. Saruna bija reliģiskā kontekstā, bet labu attiecību veidošanas principi, ko pārrunājām pretstatā sliktām un salauztām attiecībām un konfliktiem, ir vieni un tie paši.

Viena no nopietnām problēmām ir laba, gudra un atklāta dialoga trūkums, kur cilvēki var justies brīvi paust savus uzskatus un pādomas un nebaidīties, ka tiks ielikti stereotipu rāmjos vai pat demonizēti. Var jau rakstīt Feisbukā vai citos soctīklos, bet šī komunikācija ir stipri ierobežota. Pārāk bieži tā kļūst par vēl vienu kara lauku, kur puses rok dziļākus ierakumus. Es parasti izvairos likt savus komentārus un daudz neiesaistos tīmekļa diskusijās, jo man tas neliekas pārāk auglīgi. Rakstītos vārdus, īpaši no dažiem īsiem teikumiem, var viegli pārprast. Turklāt cilvēki atļaujas teikt lietas, kuras neteiktu tev sejā.

Vairāki mani draugi, kuri ir kristieši un pieder dažādām draudzēm, ir teikuši, ka arī kristīgās kopienas vidū trūkst gan labas mācības, gan labas prakses, kā rīkoties konfliktsituācijās, kā veidot labu dialogu un nenonākt līdz dziļiem konfliktiem. (Piemēram, par pretrunīgām grāmatām.) Domstarpības par “karstām tēmām” starp kristiešiem pārvēršas par diezgan ‘nekristīgu’ vārdu un viedokļu izvirdumu. Savukārt citi, kas stāv malā un cenšas neiesaistīties, paliek apjukuši, nosarkuši, apbēdināti un nespējīgi piedāvāt kaut ko pozitīvu.

Es parasti iekrītu otrā galējībā. Es tik ļoti cenšos uzmanīt savus izteikumus, ka daudzreiz nepasaku savas domas par lietām, kas man liekas svarīgas. Man galvā atskan sakāmvārds: “Mēs nevaram apdzēst ugunskuru, ja paši metam tam klāt malku.” Es nevēlos būt daļa no problēmas, bet vēlos būt daļa no risinājuma. Un mums tik ļoti nepieciešams būt labākiem klausītājiem un labākiem analītiķiem un jāmācās domāt kritiskāk. Tā ir tik steidzama vajadzība.

Esmu rakstījusi par ‘klausīšanos’ jau agrāk, un drošvien atgriezīšos pie šīs tēmas vēl un vēl. Jo ir viegli par to runāt, bet grūti to darīt mūsu savstarpējā komunikācijā. It sevišķi, kad emocijas sit augstu vilni. Mēs neklausāmies, jo negribam to darīt. Arī tāpēc, ka baidāmies mainīt savu viedokli. Baidāmies, ka mūsu stereotipi un aizspriedumi sāks šūpoties. Caur uzmanīgu klausīšanos varam justies ‘apdraudēti’. Gaisā virmo daudz aizdomu.

Mums ir jārunā par konkrētiem cilvēkiem un konkrētām problēmām, un jātiek vaļā no stereotipiem par veselām cilvēku grupām. Kura grupa tevi uztrauc? Reliģiozi cilvēki? Amerikāņu evanģēliskie kristieši? Pārliecināti musulmaņi? Valdība? Politiķi? Masu mediji? Krievi? Latvieši? Vari tukšajā vietā ierakstīt savu piemēru…

Te es pieminēšu, ka uzdrīkstos iebilst cilvēkam, kurš šobrīd dominē ziņu kanālus gandrīz visā pasaulē. Es nerunāšu par viņa rīcībpolitiku un lēmumiem, jo laiks rādīs, kas no tā sanāks un kas nesanāks, bet es klausos vārdus un izteikumus. Es iebilstu ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa runas veidam, kas pastiprina stereotipus un aizspriedumus. Piemēram, “melīgā prese” vai “izsūkt purvu” (domāti politiķi Vašingtonā). Masu mediji un žurnālisti nav viens liels vesels. Ir godīgi un negodīgi, profesionāli un neprofesionāli, ētiski un neētiski žurnālisti. Tas pats ar valdību un politiķiem. Vieni kalpo sabiedrībai, citi kalpo paši sev. Ir taisnīgi un korumpēti, gudri un muļķīgi, utt.

Taisnīguma pēc piekrītu, ka prezidents Tramps ir viegls mērķis kritikai, jo viņa teiktais tiek pārraidīts pa visu pasauli. Bet kā ir ar mums? Kā ir ar mani? Mani vārdi nav tik nozīmīgi un neatstāj tik globālas sekas, bet tie ir svarīgi manā mazajā ietekmēs zonā.

Ja mūs tiešām uztrauc tas, cik sašķēlusies un polarizēta spēj būt mūsu sabiedrība, mums pašiem jāpārbauda, vai neesam kļuvuši par vēl vienu akmeni jeb ķieģeli šajās sienās.