Education and hate speech

  • Awareness
  • 19/01/2018
  • Maltese Safer Internet Centre

Here, the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) considers the issue of hate speech and the importance of educational programmes in helping to combat it.

Hate speech is an issue that educational institutions and educationalists have to not just be aware of, but tackle as a matter of urgency. If hate speech is not tackled head on, this lack of action could be taken by students as an indication that this behaviour is to be accepted, and even small failures to act can reinforce this misconception. Equally, helping students who feel under threat is one of the hardest things a teacher or School Management Team member can do, since emotions and feelings are involved.

In schools, one can find students who write hateful graffiti on a bathroom wall or call a classmate names. Although difficult, educators must resist the urge to condemn the student. Instead, one has to ask what was behind their action? With hate speech incidents happening more and more often, it's also important for those tackling the issue within the school to be aware of and process their own feelings before they intervene or help students process an event.
Understanding a student's mind set doesn't mean excusing his or her actions: the school code of conduct will need to be pointed out and there will still be consequences. But one must leave the door open for education about hate speech, keeping options open for the students involved, whether victim and abuser. It is the role of the educator – and, in the case of Malta, the Personal Social Career Development (PSCD) teacher – to discuss the issue of hate speech in class, preferably in small groups, to make students aware of feelings involved and teach all students how to combat the sense of inferiority that may be caused by hate speech.

Both students, as well as their parents, will understandably be upset after incidents involving hate speech, even if they haven't actually occurred within their school. As we are aware, hate speech may occur on a bus, in a youth centre or sports club, or even in the privacy of one's own room in cases of online hate speech. During PSCD lessons in schools in Malta, the issue of online hate speech is given its due importance with the use of age-appropriate material, as part of the BeSmartOnline programme.

In school, it's important to let the "victim" express his or her anger. This can be done more easily when hate speech incidents actually take place at school, where onlookers or witnesses may have heard what was said or read what was written or scribbled, as opposed to online hate speech incidents, where there may be no witnesses, for example if messages are private. In such cases, unless the victim speaks up, no one will know what is happening. The role of the BeSmartOnline component within the PSCD syllabus therefore aims to increase knowledge about the issue and also equip students with the necessary skills to reduce possibilities of receiving hate speech messages and know what to do if such incidents occur online. The objectives of the PSCD lessons are not just to teach students that language based on racial stereotypes, prejudice and hate are unacceptable in classrooms or in school; emphasis is also given to the development of the necessary skills and attitudes to deal with hate speech effectively.

As a result of an increase of hateful rhetoric online, many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have issued community standards or rules that ban hate speech, harassment and hateful conduct. Likewise, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft have all signed a European Union Code of Conduct, aimed at preventing the spread of illegal hate speech.

However, every single one of us has a role to play, by first of all showing respect to others and their opinions online, as well as by spreading the word and stressing the importance of neither accepting nor promoting or sharing hate speech with others, but rather being responsible digital citizens.

This year's Safer Internet Day (SID) celebrations, which will take place on Tuesday, 6 February 2018, with the theme, "Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you" provide a good opportunity to discuss issues regarding respect online – find out more at

Find out more about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

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