Challenging Digital Antigypsyism

13 April 2021

Our Roma Rights Defenders are working to shut down hate speech against Roma on social media in Albania, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine. By building digital activist communities in their countries, they are recording and reporting hate speech on social media platforms, providing counter-narratives to racist comments, and developing materials to stop the spread of misinformation.

Background to the project:

The ERRC has been exposing the link between online hate speech and real world violence in several countries for a number of years; particularly when this intersects with far-right movements and politicians. Our activities across 15 countries have shown us that there is a direct link between the hate speech that comes from far-right political movements and online antigypsyism. We have seen time and time again how the rise of the one encourages the other, and gives racists the confidence to use language online that was previously considered taboo. When racists are emboldened to routinely incite hatred and violence online, there is an eventual, corresponding increase in hate crimes in the real world. 

There was a feeling within the ERRC, as an antifascist organisation, that the far-right are currently winning the culture war which is being waged online. They are much more advanced in utilising this sphere, and are very successful at turning people against each other using hate speech, stereotypes, and toxic racist narratives on the internet. This project started because people like us – people who are not far-right, who respect diversity, and respect human rights – do very little to fight against racist online narratives. And as Roma especially we do almost nothing in the face of this relatively new threat. This volunteer run programme is an easy first step that we can take to do something about this.

Our approach:

The Challenging Digital Antigypsyism project was designed to proactively address the dominant web culture of hatred against Roma. We want to take practical action against hate speech that goes beyond the usual awareness-raising and educational approaches.

Get hate speech taken down, no matter the method. That’s our aim.

The project is rooted in identifying and reporting hate speech using the report function on various social media platforms. Our volunteers engage in this activity regularly and record each and every report and its outcome for later analysis. This project goes beyond ‘just’ reporting however. Social media reports are a good focus for us; they are a positive action which we can take, and will help us build a body of evidence for our advocacy work. But this is really only the beginning of how we should be combatting racists on the internet. Our volunteers lead the programme’s direction using the perspectives they gain from their activities, and they have made it clear that it is no longer enough to be “not racist”, you have to be “anti-racist” to challenge hate. You have to DO something to make a difference. In this vein they have been engaged in parallel activities, alongside and informed by their work on Challenging Digital Antigypsyism, to use the information they have discovered to more effectively fight against hate speech. In the past this has taken the form of complaints to state bodies and broadcast regulators, dialogue with news media editors, penning articles, and human rights education and training for volunteers.

This project is only in its infancy and we hope it will continue to grow into a digital movement to make our anti-racist presence known online, and make the world a safer place for Roma both on and offline.

Keep an eye out for recruitment calls for this position.

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