Empowering young people to hack online hate with the SELMA project

From Monday, 11 to Wednesday, 20 May 2020, COFACE Families Europe is marking the International Day of Families 2020 by hosting Digital Citizenship Breakfast Bytes, a series of eight 90-minute online sessions (from 9:30-11:00 CET) aiming to increase critical thinking and understanding of the digital world. On Friday, 15 May 2020, in the session called "SELMA Hacking Hate Toolkit: Games to empower young people online", the participants had the opportunity to take a closer look at the SELMA project.

2020-05-20 BIK Team

The webinar was hosted by Sabrina Vorbau, eSafety Label Project Manager at European Schoolnet (EUN) and Andrew Williams, Online Safety Consultant at South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL); two organisations that worked on the SELMA project, along with For Adolescent Health (FAH), The Diana Award, LMK/Media Authority for Rhineland-Palatinate and the Center for Digital Youth Care.

The core mission of the SELMA project is to empower young people to hack online hate. As such, SELMA is an acronym that stands for Social and Emotional Learning for Mutual Awareness, but it is also a reference to the American city in which the civil rights movement's march took place in 1965. The project's slogan is "Hacking hate" – hacking being understood here as "any amateur innovation on an existing system, and it is a deeply democratic activity. It's about critical thinking. It's about questioning existing ways of doing things. It's the idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it, and not just complain about it", according to a definition from Catherine Bracy, TechEquity Collaborative.

To empower young people to take a creative, solution-oriented approach to the issues they encounter online and assist them in becoming proactive digital citizens, the SELMA project strives to give them the tools to:

  • Identify issues when they arise. The concept of online hate is quite blurry – a range of focus groups held early on in the project highlighted the fact that there is a lot of confusion, particularly among young people, on the difference between online hate and cyberbullying.
  • Acknowledge the impact that those issues cause. Online hate speech affects us in several different ways, which explains why the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) methodology permeates the SELMA project.
  • Explore those issues and how they might emanate and appear using real world examples.
  • Understand the impact of those issues and how they contribute to the problem.
  • Create potential solutions using a wide range of skills and agency. The main focus in that regard was to give young people the right tools to be able to produce their own counter-hate content, in various settings.
  • Apply solutions choosing the right context and ecosystems through effective calls to action. Hate speech can take place in a number of different ecosystems – the SELMA project identified three (see more below) – and it is therefore paramount that young people are able to apply their solutions taking this parameter into account.
  • Disrupt the factors or agents that are contributing to the issue.
  • Change the ecosystem positively, and evidence and celebrate the impact.

In recent years, the issue of online hate speech has grown, and all societies are struggling to find appropriate responses to it. It is important to highlight that this is not simply a problem inherent to digital technologies; as such, proactive approaches which complement regulatory and policy instruments are needed. Promoting an educative approach which encourages and creates an enabling space for critical thinking, thoughtful reflection and respectful dialogue seemed key in that regard.

The SELMA project is co-funded by the European Commission (EC) under the European Union's Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). The project lasted from 2017 to 2019, with the main body of activities taking place in 2019, but all materials produced within the project remain available online, including the project's main outcome, the SELMA Toolkit, designed for various education professionals looking to empower young people aged 11-16 to hack online hate. This set of resource is now available in English, Danish, German, Greek, Portuguese. Finnish and Polish translations will become available soon.

Other activities carried out within the framework of the SELMA project include a hackathon in which young people were invited to come up with innovative solutions to online hate speech, and a research report "Hacking Online Hate: Building an Evidence Base for Educators". Indeed, the first part of the project consisted mainly of research, including carrying out a review of the literature; carrying out online quantitative surveys with children and young people on the one hand and teachers on the other, on the topic of hate speech; and coming up with a clear definition of online hate speech in the framework of the project, which is as follows:

"Every form of expression written or said (including text messages, images, music, videos, games, paintings, symbols, signs, other forms of art), expressed and disseminated by an individual or group of people, through all forms of electronic digital communications such as media, websites, forums, blogs, social media platforms, emails, targeted against an individual or group of people based on a core characteristic of them, in particular on their gender or gender identity, race or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or belief, disability, with the intention to spread hate, harass, threaten and provoke directly or indirectly violence against the specific individuals or members of groups within the societies."

The outcomes of the research process then allowed the SELMA partners to set the scene for the project.

Image of the SELMA Toolkit Concept Model

The concept model of the SELMA Toolkit – © SELMA

The SELMA Toolkit was built on a concept model encompassing the three ecosystems in which young people might encounter hate speech – the Self, the Peer/Social level, and Society. The project also combines three methodologies:

  • Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), which consists of self-management (our ability to manage ourselves, our impulses, our emotional states), self-awareness (our ability to be aware of our emotional states and their consequences) and social awareness (our awareness that what we do impacts other people's emotions), but also good relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
  • Media Literacy, which is developed through Media Analysis and Media Production modules.
  • Citizenship Education.

The resources developed in the Toolkit are ultimately meant to be used by teachers, peers, school professionals, social workers, community leaders and even families, to empower young people to effect positive change online. The Toolkit consists of over a hundred educational activities that are flexible and easy to adapt. Not all of them are paper-based activities; many actually rely on active discussions. Through its nine themes, the Toolkit explores nine questions about online hate:

  1. What is hate speech?
  2. Why is there hate speech content out there?
  3. How does hate speech make me feel?
  4. What's my role and what can I do?
  5. Are my people really using hate speech?
  6. How can I influence my people?
  7. How can we effect change in our community?
  8. Working with online stakeholders
  9. Changing the world

Andrew Williams and Sabrina Vorbau concluded the webinar by inviting all participants to keep hacking hate with SELMA by using this Toolkit, exploring potential translation opportunities, reading the research report, or even becoming a SELMA Ambassador.

For more information about the SELMA project, please visit hackinghate.eu.

To learn more about the COFACE Families Europe Digital Citizenship Breakfast Bytes, including the session which will be hosted by BIK Youth Ambassadors on Wednesday, 20 May, please visit coface-eu.org.

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