Responding to hate speech against migrants in social media: What can you do?

Responding to hate speech against migrants in social media: What can you do?

"We all have to remember that hate crimes are preceded by hate speech." This is how Adama Dieng, UN's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, starts the Stopping Hate Speech video. "We have to bear in mind that words kill. Words kill as bullets", he continued.

To speak about hate speech it is necessary to refer to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The article stresses the importance of freedom of expression, but it also calls attention to the responsibilities that come with it. 

The United Nations has recently launched the "UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech", to strengthen UN actions that address the causes of hate speech, and the impact this discourse has within societies. Among other measures, the strategy includes monitoring and analyzing data, using technology, and engaging with new and traditional media. It also encourages more research on the relationship between the misuse of the Internet and social media for spreading hate speech, and the factors that drive individuals towards violence.

Just like the UN must assume responsibility, traditional media oulets also face challenges in guaranteeing that the information they offer on migrants is conscientious and data-based (here are some recommendations on how to do this).

But beyond these institutional responsibilities, the reality is that thousands of people publish hate filled content on their social media every day, sometime explicitly calling for violent actions against migrant populations and other vulnerable groups. What can each of us do to fight back against this content?

  • Speak up against hate: Silence and apathy can be taken as acceptance. Comments on social networks are more than just words, and should not be seen as harmless, especially when social networks are a source of information for migrants and contribute to their experiences. According to the Department of Justice of the United States, "insults can escalate to harassment, harassment can escalate to threats, and threats to physical violence." Intervening assertively is important both in the digital world and in face-to-face situations. However, it is necessary to assess the risk in each context to avoid dangerous situations.
  • Create positive content: To counteract the weight of hate speech, it is necessary to create and share empathetic information. According to Cristina Gallach, High Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda, to combat this problem, we must present images that appeal to the best of us, and focus on powerful and universal messages that unite us through our shared values.
  • Avoid sharing sensational videos and photos: Even when it is to criticize this type of content, sharing it will increase traffic to the channels and users that broadcast negative media.
  • Report on the platform: Each social network has its own guidelines on which content is acceptable or not not. While there are teams dedicated to verify this information, in many cases it is necessary to report it for it to be seen. Facebook continually checks if there are new vulnerable populations that should be included in their protected categories, and on previous occasions, migrants have fit within this group. According to the Facebook hard questions blog:

"When the influx of migrants arriving in Germany increased in recent years, we received feedback that some posts on Facebook were directly threatening refugees or migrants. We investigated how this material appeared globally and decided to develop new guidelines to remove calls for violence against migrants or dehumanizing references to them — such as comparisons to animals, to filth or to trash. But we have left in place the ability for people to express their views on immigration itself."

There is a whole discussion about whether social media companies are the ones who should define, in their own platforms, what constitutes freedom of expression and what constitutes hate speech, but that is material for another blog. Here you can see what kind of content to report in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

  • Report to the authorities: When there are personal threats to the physical integrity or the lives of others, it is time to report the situation to the competent authorities to intervene. Since the digital world moves faster than changes in laws, there may be "holes" in the regulations that will hinder intervention. Documenting hazardous materials through screenshots and collecting as much information as possible about the aggressor before they close their account will be useful for the reporting process. Platforms and companies can also be reported if they spread violent content. For example, a few months after the massacres in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand), the Australian government approved new legislation against spaces that do not quickly eliminate "violent and abominable material".

“We need to use the verb to become a tool for peace, a tool for love, a tool for increase social cohesion”, said Adama, later in the video. Let’s speak up against hate speech.


Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America

Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In cases of forced displacement, extortion is often mentioned as one of the main causes. However, extortion is located within a cycle of violence, such sexual violence, murder, etc., and it is difficult to identify a single incident of extortion as the sole reason for leaving a country.

Although its definition varies depending on national legislation, extortion can be understood as the use of threats, intimidation and other acts of violence to obtain actions or goods from another person against their will, as defined by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (REDLAC), in a special bulletin dedicated to this issue and upon which this post is based.

In the context of migration, kidnapping and extortion go hand-in-hand, as smugglers often extort money from migrants by threatening to kidnap their relatives. Extortion can also be committed in the other direction: relatives of migrants who have already arrived in another country are extorted by smugglers, demanding money from them so as not to harm the family member who has already migrated. This can often lead to persecution in communities of origin and destination.

In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the serious issue of personal insecurity fuelled by drug trafficking and corruption has marked the region as one of the most violent on the planet, according to Amnesty International. In this context, extortion schemes demanding payments from local markets and small businesses are commonplace in gang-controlled territories. However, depending on the country, there can also be extortion demands  placed on homes, such as in Guatemala, where this accounts for 55% of extortion complaints.

There is also a difference between the type and impact of extortion experienced by men, women, children and the LGBTIQ+ population. In this sense, when women are extorted for money, threats are often combined with the intimidating possibility of sexual violence. According to the REDLAC bulletin, the bodies of women, adolescents, and girls are treated as territory for revenge and control while children are being increasingly recruited as rent collectors, among other functions.

Migrants are often also extorted by people who are not part of criminal groups but who take advantage of their vulnerable situation to turn a profit, such as locals who demand payment to cross private land rather than using routes with criminal gangs, or transporters who demand money from irregular migrants in exchange for not reporting them to immigration authorities. The same situation has been reported with employers who, on pay-day, threaten to report migrant workers for an irregular migrant status.

There are currently no figures on the number of people displaced or forced to migrate due to extortion in northern Central America, as this is part of a generalised climate of violence; however, some organisations locate this crime as one of the main reasons for migration from areas or even from the country.

 

Extortion during the pandemic

In the bulletin of the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (REDLAC) which examines extortion as a trigger for internal displacement and forced migration in northern Central America and Mexico, some relevant points were also made about how extortion has adapted to the context of COVID-19:

  • In El Salvador, COVID-19 has reduced the income of gangs, but they have not lost territorial control. Some gangs have established restrictions, such as allowing one individual per family to make food purchases, to reduce the risk that a gang member may become ill and not be able to access medical care.
  • In Honduras, the paralysis of the transportation and informal trade sectors, generally common sectors for extortion, has registered a decrease in cases of extortion due to the pandemic. However, there have been reports of threats of retroactive charges once commerce resumes, house-to-house tariffs, and road ‘tolls’, and scams executed by gangs. Food distributors are frequent victims of extortion when entering communities.
  • In Guatemala, extortion has not stopped either, although at the beginning of the pandemic some maras (gangs) granted ‘pardons’ in their communities. However, national agencies predict that when the restrictive measures end, there will be an increase in other crimes and that extortion will return as a greater threat.
  • Mobility restrictions increase the risk of people being trapped in violent environments, making it difficult to seek support in other territories and countries. Despite this, many people seek and will continue to seek irregular migration options, despite the dangers of the pandemic, in order to leave the high-violence, low-income contexts in which they live.