Challenging hate speech in Bulgaria

  • Awareness
  • 02/11/2016
  • Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre

Over the past few years, society in Bulgaria has been affected by the ever-growing wave of aggressive, offensive and discriminative viewpoints, including xenophobia and racism. This flood of hate speech via online media, internet forums and social media has, on several occasions, spilled over into different forms of physical violence. Children are exposed to hate speech from a very young age due to their early entry into the digital world. An active campaign against online hate speech, especially that which directly involves or influences children and young people, therefore became one of the priorities of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) in 2016.

At the beginning of the year, the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) became a member of the National Campaign Committee of the Council of Europe's No Hate Speech Movement 2016-2017 for Bulgaria. Teaming up with several other Campaign Committee members, the Bulgarian SIC participated in a public action marking the international action day on ‘Countering Sexist Hate Speech' (8 March 2016). The main event of the day was the initiative ‘Walk a kilometre in her shoes', during which male participants had to run or walk a kilometre on a main street in Sofia in high-heeled shoes. ‘Walk a kilometre/mile in her shoes' is a popular international event, providing men with an opportunity to show solidarity to women and raise awareness about the causes and effects of men's sexualised violence against women.
Prior to and after the walk, SIC team members and youth panel volunteers talked to participants, onlookers and passers-by, carrying out a survey on sexist hate speech. Its aim was to determine how often people encounter sexist online posts, comments and remarks, and whether they recognise them as hate speech. The special focus of the survey was online hate speech that occurs as a reaction to provocative pictures and videos, taken and uploaded by minors. 
On 25 April 2016, the Bulgarian SIC hosted a round table with participation from over 20 experts from various governmental institutions and non-profit organisations. The SIC presented a new methodology - ‘Children, teachers and parents against hate speech and discrimination' - developed in a close cooperation with a group of primary school teachers. It uses an interactive approach to strengthen children's sensitivity to hate speech and its possible consequences: discrimination, bullying and violence. The methodology consists of three elements: in-class work, homework (which the children are expected to do together with their parents), and a school event with participation from teachers, children and parents. The round table participants also discussed the main findings and policy recommendations from the analytical report about the piloting of the methodology in Bulgarian schools. The main recommendations brought forth in the report concern the prevention of hate speech through social and civic skills education in the first four grades of primary school, more active involvement of parents, and the development and consolidation of children's critical thinking, digital and media literacy skills, and emotional intelligence.
As the culmination of the two-year long work on the project ‘Children, teachers and parents against hate speech and discrimination', the SIC published, in 2016, a teacher's handbook and workbook for pupils. The teacher's handbook includes 10 interactive lessons which teach children to think critically, work in teams, recognise and understand emotions, grasp the power of words and speech, and be self-assertive without hurting, offending or neglecting others. Each lesson includes learning skills for the positive and responsible use of the web, as children most often come across negative models promoting racism and hate speech on the internet and social media. The workbook contains different exercises and tasks related to each of the 10 lessons, and which necessitate active cooperation of children with at least one of their parents.
The teacher's handbooks and workbooks for pupils, which apply for all grades of primary school, were sent to over 100 schools all over Bulgaria. According to feedback received from teachers, the classes had a very positive impact on children. They became more empathic and willing to help their classmates, started to communicate more politely and respectfully, and made a conscious effort to avoid offensive and aggressive intonation and expressions.
At the moment, the methodology, the handbook and the textbook are available only in Bulgarian but if there is interest and the opportunity arises, they might be translated and adapted to the English language also.
Find out more about the work of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre.

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  • Awareness
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