Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Only a joke? Learning about online cyber-bullying and Hate Speech on a Concordia hosted workshop

The Council of Europe's 'No Hate Speech' campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem of online bullying and Hate Speech. Concordia France recently ran an international workshop in Le Mans, France aimed at training educators and youth workers in methods to teach about this growing problem.

Have you ever been the subject of a 'joke' comment which instead of making you laugh maybe revealed more about the senders prejudices? Have you ever read a Facebook post which you thought was a little close to the bone? Most of us have. Cyberbullying and Hate Speech are new names for old problems. Traditionally intolerance and bullying involved comments thrown across the street or the playground, but today our increasingly online social lives offer new avenues for such comments.

'No Hate Speech' was the topic of a recent workshop organised by Concordia France in Le Mans for educators and youth workers from across Europe. The 'No Hate Speech' movements aims to raise awareness of this growing problem through education and publicity. It was established in 2012 by the Council of Europe. The workshop aimed at giving educators the tools to use with young people to make them aware of their online actions.

Prevention is better than cure.
Could we define key terms like Hate Speech, gender, discrimination, LGBT+, migrant, and refugee? These are words we use everyday but for which tying down a concrete definition is surprisingly difficult without a dictionary. Heated group discussion ensured. What were our personal experiences of discrimination? We identified instances where we had either been perpetrator, witness or victim of Hate comments. Sharing experiences and feeling made us aware of the impact of the problem.

We learnt methods to break down hateful comments to examine their origin and effect. One activity 'the tree of Hate' centred on one example of Hate and in groups we identified the root causes of the comment and what effects it later had. Our group choose the infamous 'Breaking Point' UKIP poster. Was this the result of fear of immigration, loss of border controls, a lack of knowledge of migrants and other faiths, a consequence of welfare cuts? Had it resulted in the EU 'no' vote? Topics for endless discussion.

Had we personally been discriminated against because of our looks, faith, sexuality, origins or even dress? Together we stood in a line, and stepped forward if we could answer no to each statement. It was surprising how many of us were left behind.

Towards the end of the week a workshop was organised for local youths from Le Mans to allow some of us to put our skills into action. A publicity event was organised in Le Mans to engage the local population; this involved handing out compliments from a bucket to passers by, asking people to cite things they loved, and aimed at educating about the project. Another group learnt how to make a video about online bullying.

Taking it forward
The international nature of the week greatly contributed to its success. Attendees from Austria, Albania, Greece and Great Britain all looked at problems with a different perspective. Attitudes to problems like the European migrant crisis are different depending on whether you are a transit country or potential host.

By actually taking part in activities you really learnt how these topics could be taught back in your host country. But perhaps as valuable as the actual training was the chance to engage with others with different background and different ideas. The ultimate take home message was maybe, we are all different but we all have the same feelings. 

Participant in the No Hate Speech Training & International Volunteer with Concordia


No Hate Speech

The day after I turned 30, I hopped on a train to London, made my way to St Pancras International station and boarded the Eurostar – destination, Le Mans! The reason for my journey was to attend a training course, funded by Erasmus+ (yes, the same people who run the university exchange) and open to participants from across Europe.
The topic of the week focused around the No Hate Speech Movement, set up by the Council of Europe, which aims to educate people on the forms of hate speech, where it is found and what actions you can take to combat it.
On a personal level, this training course woke me up to the reality of hate speech. As a white, British, straight female, I’ve not come across much hate speech directed at me personally. I glossed over what I saw online, inwardly condemning the people who wrote it, but not thinking about the causes or the effects that it can have on the victims. I wasn’t an ally, I was a bystander. I came away from this training much more aware of the damage that hate speech can cause, and the ways in which it has crept into our daily lives through social media, sensationalist tabloid headlines and online comments.
Considering the year we have had in the UK (*cough* Brexit *cough*) and the fact that the US elections happened during the week-long course, this training could not have come at a more relevant time. It’s no secret that there has been a rise in reports of hate crimes in the UK since June, and the US seems to be following the same trend since the election. But now, rather than sitting and feeling helpless about what I am witnessing online, this course has made me consider the actions that I can actually take to combat Hate Speech when I encounter it. From reporting hate speech online to running workshops on hate speech to the young people I work with, I now have practical actions which I can take to stem the tide of hate and anger which I see in our society.
But the week wasn’t all doom and gloom!
I don’t think I have ever been on a course or volunteering project where I felt so immediately at home and comfortable with the people I was sharing my time with. Participants from UK, France, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia and Greece came together with one thing in common – huge hearts and a desire to be part of a happier, more inclusive world. We explored the beautiful city of Le Mans together, we exchanged our food and customs from across Europe, we shared the similarities and differences of language and had fun making fun of ourselves! Of course, being in France, I consumed much more bread, cheese and red wine than is required in one person’s diet, and had a lovely time doing it!

For anyone thinking of attending a training in Europe, I say do it. I have had great experiences, met wonderful people and had my eyes opened to new ideas and discussion which have benefited me both in my work and personal life. All this was provided for free, and even my travel costs were covered (well, most of it) Fingers crossed the next training course won’t be far away!


No Hate Speech participant and

longtime volunteer with Concordia Volunteers