The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) is part of the Civil Peace Service (CPS) Network of Bread for the World (BftW). The network partners in Sierra Leone meet at least four times a year for quarterly meetings to update themselves on projects successes, challenges and also find solutions together. BftW offers trainings for peace work in different contexts. The last training in 2022 as well as the annual partners meeting with network partners in Liberia was under the influence of the up-coming elections in 2023 in both countries.
How to Stop Hate Speech before, during and after Elections
The August 10 massacre of demonstrators and police officers showed all how fragile the peace in Sierra Leone could be, and how easy people can be influenced and used for violent actions and chaos in the streets. Hate speech is not a new phenomenon; but it is becoming a bigger challenge through the misuse of social media channels. Information can be shared anonymously and fast, and people tend to say things on social media that they would never verbally say to another.
In October, partners were invited for a two-day training on “How to react and stop Hate Speech”. Participants learned what hate speech is, how to identify it and why it is dangerous even when it is meant as a joke.
During the workshop, participants learned what hate speech is, how it is identified, and why it is dangerous even when it is meant as a joke. They practiced how to react to hate speech through real life situations. Trainees were divided into three different groups. While two groups were tasked to accuse each other using hate speech, the third group was required to intervene and try to stop the use of hate speech. It was realised at the end that, it is very challenging to stop hate speech on social media because messages are posted very fast. However, constant engagement along with peace messages across the media was seen as one of the means to diffuse tensions and build peace.
There is no final definition of Hate Speech, but we can say that, “Hate speech uses words as a weapon – aimed at specific groups of people. The expressers devalue people in comments, verbally attack them or call for violence. These devaluations are based on stereotypes or the assumption that certain groups of people are worthless than others. It violates people’s dignity and rights and can intimidate entire groups”, Juliane Westphal, BftW-CPS Support in Mediation, Open Space and training
Especially for the next months, when tensions might raise and communication might get harsh, we should keep in mind that hate speech is an instrument to divide the society and to create chaos.
We advise everyone: Think before you click. Don´t forward any message you receive without verifying the content and thinking whether it is hate speech or not. For peaceful elections 2023!