Hacking online hate speech with SELMA

Hate speech is increasingly common on social media; but that does not make it any less problematic. A recent study released by the SELMA (Social and Emotional Learning for Mutual Awareness) project shows how online hate speech has become an inevitable part of young people's daily experiences online, with education and awareness-raising efforts on the topic lagging behind. To complement existing initiatives to regulate, monitor or report online hate speech, a more pro-active answer is needed.

SELMA is a two-year project co-funded by the European Commission1, which aims to tackle the problem of online hate speech by promoting mutual awareness, tolerance and respect. The overall vision of the SELMA project is captured by its catchphrase: Hacking Hate. It builds upon social and emotional learning (SEL), media literacy and citizenship education approaches to empower young people to become agents of change. It helps them to better understand the phenomenon of online hate, and provides them with tools and strategies to act and make a difference. It targets young people aged 11-16 in schools, but also in out-of-school communities that impact on their wellbeing.

At the heart of the project is the SELMA Toolkit: a set of principles, methods and activities that will enable different types of stakeholders to work on online hate speech with 11-to-16-year-old teenagers. It consists of a range of modules looking at the issue of online hate through different lenses: social and emotional learning (SEL), media literacy and citizenship.

The primary goal of this holistic approach is not to tell children and young people what is "good" or "bad" online behaviour, but rather to enable them to engage with the problem of online hate speech and its possible solutions with creativity and critical thinking, reflecting on questions such as:

  • What is online hate speech?
  • How does it affect my personal and social environment?
  • What role can I play – together with my peers – in addressing online hate speech and changing society for the better?

In order to develop an evidence base for the creation of the toolkit, SELMA partners carried out a comprehensive research programme on online hate speech, including a literature review, a series of qualitative focus groups, and an online quantitative survey. Key findings have now been synthesised in the report "Hacking Online Hate: Building an Evidence Base for Educators."

Additional activities and outputs include:

  • Face-to-face and online training and counselling for young people.
  • Training/briefings to educational staff/teachers and school leaders as well as social workers, parents and other carers, including a massive open online course (MOOC).
  • Education Task Force meetings for EU policy makers, Ministries of Education and IT companies to facilitate mutual learning and cooperation, shaping their respective policies, while taking into account the perspective of young people and civil society.
  • The dissemination of outputs, results and lessons learned. A hackathon, an international conference, as well as different online campaigns including a final education/awareness week, will ensure cross-European outreach.

These combined initiatives will foster greater awareness, knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon of online hate speech and the key role that young people can and should play in this regard.

The SELMA Toolkit is currently under development and will be made available at www.hackinghate.eu this spring.


1: Under the European Union's Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). More information is available at http://ec.europa.eu/justice/grants1/programmes-2014-2020/rec/index_en.htm

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