Is it easier to spread hate?

The Internet was originally a unidirectional media. Experts used to upload static data and for viewers to receive – without interaction. Nowadays we see the Web as a community in which we are an active part of our social networks’ accounts such as blogs and forums. What has brought this important change is what we call Web 2.0: the web in which everybody can interact without being an expert in coding.

The research “Digital in 2016 by We are social shows that about half of the world’s 7.395 billion people have access to the internet.

The internet has changed the world and our lives: it reduces distances, spreads cultures all around the globe for free. It permits people from opposite sides of the world to interact with each other in real time.  As most aspects of humanity,  there are not just good or bad sides. Almost three and a half billion people mean 3,5 billion different lives, opinions, and views.

Hate, as human emotion, has become part of the internet in different shapes. One message of hate can be (potentially) shared by billions of people and once it has been published on the web, it stays there forever. There is no way to be sure that it will not appear again in the future. Hate has been institutionalized by those who are supposed to mitigate it, as politicians and as medias’ workers.

“Institutionalization of hate increases the level of tolerance, which is easy to increase but hard to decrease – says Giovanni Ziccardi, an Italian writer and a professor of Information law. He also states that:  “if we get used to a certain type of expressions and our tolerance bar increases, it’s hard to come back to the previous level”.

Hate creates profit and consent; we can see an increase of success in those politicians who are using hate speech in their campaigns. Some of them are using their followers on social media to spread hate against their opponents. The Web itself is merely a platform where a message can be spread regardless of its nature or its accuracy. Online hate usually develops and spreads by itself through three phases: will, incitement and violence. Experts say that we should approach it by developing three aspects: education, law, and technology. But why are we speaking about hate online as if it would be something different from hate in everyday life?

Social conventions, civil and religious education, respect and cohabitation work as filters. Sometimes we have thoughts that are not easily acceptable, we have thoughts that we would never tell in public or even to our closest friends. It’s one thing to merely have a thought and another to state it in public in order for it to spread.

When stating something in public we bear responsibility for it. However, on the web the situation is different. The screen can work as a mask and it is easier to say something that we would never say in normal life. We can always delete the message (even if there is no way to ensure that is has been deleted completely).  

Probably in the future things will change. Technology and law will be developed and to say something on the Web will be similar, in terms of accountability, to saying something in public in real life. This would make spreading hate harder – but what about the hate itself? It still will be inside people’s heart and minds and maybe it will find another way to get out. Hence it begs the question: why do we have all this hate?

To work on this question on a personal and communitarian level can help in finding a long-term solution so that the link between hate and internet as a platform would no longer be as strong as it is today.  The power of Web 2.0 relies on its capacity to get people closer to each other than before, hence It’s our choice to either change things for the better or to build walls of hate. By Andrea Maulini

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