What if I told you that the social media platforms were the real Big Brother in society, that social media platforms currently have the power to manipulate an entire population. Sounds a bit crazy, right? Indeed, a conspiracy like this is crazy. However, we are in fact living in a time when people have stopped paying attention, in a society where social media gets more attention than our planet. How did we end up here?
“The Social Dilemma”
In the digital age, smartphones have become an essential part of our daily lives, connecting us to a new world of unlimited information and opportunities. Interacting with the rest of the world has never been easier. The rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have played a significant role in transforming the way we communicate, share content, and consume information. However, a lot of people have developed a toxic relationship to their phones in recent years. Personally, I consistently keep my smartphone either in my pocket or on the table in front of me, a habit I find quite problematic. “The Social Dilemma”, a documentary about the dark side of social media, expose how social media nurtures addiction to maximize profit and examines the hidden impact these platforms have on the society.
The New Society
Focus is a rare skill to find in the new digital era. No one is paying attention anymore. You should think that the internet, smartphones, and social media would make our life more efficient, leaving more time to focus on the real important things in life. However, the endless opportunities that follows with the world online is leaving us on an unorganized path full of distractions. The biggest distraction of them all is hidden in our pocket the whole way. Social media platforms are designed to capture and retain our attention. An average employee is estimated to pick up his phones 30 times a day during working hours, or every 16 minutes during a full eight-hour shift. Constant disruptions caused by our smartphones is fragmenting our focus, preventing us from engage in deep work or sustaining attention on important tasks. A lot of people think they are doing more if they multitask, but the truth is that behavior like this is leading to decreased productivity and a shallow understanding of the information we consume.
We are stuck in the Matrix. No one looks up from their phone anymore. People find themselves constantly checking their social media feeds, driven by the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the anxiety of being without their smartphones, a phenomenon known as nomophobia. Social media platforms are built on a reward system that triggers the release of dopamine, capitalizing on keeping their users on the screen for as long as possible. The anticipation of receiving likes and comments fuels our desire for validation, often leading to addictive behaviors. Engineers are constantly working to find new ways to enhance addictive behavior, implementing streaks on Snapchat, infinite scroll on Instagram, and autoplay on YouTube. At the same time, we are told that lack of willpower is the source to our addiction. It is time that the social media platforms take some responsibility for the product they have made.
Is Virtual Climate Activism Enough?
While social media platforms have played a vital role in raising awareness about climate issues, it is important to differentiate between virtual activism and real-world impact. Reposting a story on Instagram is easy, do the work that is required to make a change is not. A lot of people demonstrate their concern for the climate on social media, few people implement actual lifestyle changes that benefit the environment. Awareness is great, but there is not enough to talk the talk. We must walk the walk to make a significant change. We can start by taking a break from our digital lives and start paying attention to how our own lifestyle is affecting the environment.
Virtual activism has emerged as a powerful tool in the digital age, enabling individuals and communities to raise awareness and advocate for social and environmental causes through online platforms. It allows organizations to provide information, mobilize supporters, and organize campaigns efficiently. However, the phenomenon of greenwashing has also become prevalent. Greenwashing refers to the deceptive marketing practices employed by organizations to present an environmentally friendly image while engaging in harmful or unsustainable practices, creating an illusion of commitment to environmental causes.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Our attention is more valuable than ever. With climate change looming as one of the greatest challenges of our time, it is crucial that we allocate our time and attention towards solutions rather than getting lost in the endless scroll. A change from addictive social media platforms that capitalizes on our attention, isolating us from the offline world, towards an existence where social media platforms encourages their users to meet face-to-face and engage in important conversations, could be the change required to shift from the current dystopia towards a new utopia.
Human Security Perspectives on Hate Speech
As readers of this article, including myself as the writer, we have all likely encountered hate speech, sometimes without even realizing it. The way each of us perceives hate speech can vary, and its impact on individuals may also differ. This recognition leads us to acknowledge that both you and I have been victims of hate speech at one point or another. The challenge arises in whether we can classify what we’ve experienced as ‘hate,’ or if it was simply ‘speech’ that caused discomfort. Regardless of its nature, severity, or impact, hate speech is harmful and acts as a barrier to the well-being of our society.
What is hate speech?
What constitutes hate speech? According to the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, it is defined as ‘any form of communication in speech, writing, or behavior that attacks or employs derogatory or discriminatory language towards an individual or group based on their characteristics, such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender, or other identity factors.’ The strategy emphasizes that there’s no universally agreed-upon definition of hate speech within international human rights law. Furthermore, it clarifies that hate speech can take various forms of expression, including images, cartoons, memes, objects, gestures, symbols, and can be disseminated both offline and online.
Digital age as a challenge
In contrast to the past, today’s society is deeply entrenched in the digital realm. Consequently, social media has emerged as a prominent platform for communication. However, not all forms of communication on these platforms promote healthy discourse. Due to their wide-reaching usage, accessibility, and constant availability, even radicalized individuals, terrorists, and separatists have harnessed these platforms to further their agendas. While some employ social media to express genuine emotions, foster unity, and engage in constructive debate, others employ it to manipulate, mock, belittle, or denigrate individuals and specific groups.
As noted by Research Outreach, ‘The digital age has facilitated the sharing of online speech and content, often anonymously and without considering the consequences. While online publishing is instant, the mechanisms designed to regulate speech are frequently cumbersome and slow. In traditional media, editorial oversight from someone other than the author has historically served as an effective check on hate speech—a safeguard that doesn’t apply to self-published content on social media platforms.’ Additionally, as highlighted by Thorleifsson and O Düker, ‘Online environments have proven to be fertile ground for violent extremism, enabling socialization, recruitment, and accelerated radicalization. These digital spaces are often referred to as “virtual communities” or “radical milieus,” where information dissemination and involvement are actively encouraged. Even lone actors find connections within these virtual communities, sharing their worldviews and interpretations.
Impact of hate speech on human security
Before delving into what is hate speech and its impact on human security, it is pivotal to discuss briefly what human security is. Undoubtedly, society has changed and evolved and due to that reason concerns and priorities have also taken a change. Unlike in past, where military security is about the military forces and protection from intervention, at present security, includes notions which deal with human existences, such as human rights, food, water, energy, cyber and politics. As per the (Human Security Handbook, 2016), In 2012, the adoption of General Assembly resolution 66/290 marked a significant moment in the promotion of human security. The resolution outlined Basic Rights which means that people have the right to live in freedom and dignity, without getting subjected to poverty or despair. These rights apply to all, particularly vulnerable groups, ensuring freedom from fear and want and equal opportunities for all. The approach is as follows people-centric, context-specific, and prevention-focused. In addition, it is important to merit attention to Interconnectedness, where Human security recognizes the interconnected nature of peace, development, and human rights, encompassing civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Another point is, it is Distinct from the Responsibility to Protect and is Non-Coercive. Another important element is, National Ownership, as Human security is based on national ownership, acknowledging the diversity of conditions across countries.
Therefore, hate speech violates human rights since it impacts the dignity and rights of human beings. The impact of hate is disastrous. The word “hate” itself is derogatory since it is prejudicial, angry and also condescending. The words “hate speech” go a step beyond. Some hate speech can be made at an instance, some can be more systematic, coordinated and pre-planned. Hate speech’s impact is multi-faceted and it is hard to rank it since hate speech is psychological. Firstly, it is crucial to note that hate speech affects the mentality of the person. According to, (Pluta et al, 2023) “the widespread ubiquity of hate speech affects people’s attitudes and behaviour. Exposure to hate speech can lead to prejudice, dehumanization, and lack of empathy towards members of outgroups”. According to (SELMA partners,2019) “more specifically, victims of online hate speech may show low self-esteem, sleeping disorders, increased anxiety and feelings of fear and insecurity”.
The said hate speech does not stop from inflicting pain on the mind only, it goes beyond. The reason is, that hate speech can be against a specific ethnicity, race, gender or religious community, which will result in division resulting in the erosion of social cohesion. In addition, the violence incurred on the mind of the individuals transcends to physical violence where hatred will result in riots and bloodshed.
An example of hate speech based on race is the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, which involved ethnic discrimination. According to the United Nations, decades of hate speech exacerbated ethnic tensions in Rwanda. This was achieved by spreading unfounded rumors and dehumanizing ethnic Tutsi citizens. The hate propaganda was disseminated through the infamous Radio Libre des Mille Collines, which incited the Hutu majority to commit violence against their fellow Tutsi citizens. Another example can be found in the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The role of hatred and disinformation campaigns in inciting and legitimating war crimes during the Bosnian war (1992–1995) has been established. In Serbian majority areas, constant nationalist propaganda was disseminated through party-controlled media. This demonized the Bosnian Muslim population and other groups, portraying them as violent fundamentalist enemies plotting against the Serbs.
Another example involves hate speech directed at gender. One prominent instance is Gamergate, an online harassment campaign that occurred in 2014–15, targeting women in the video game industry. This campaign was mainly attributed to white male right-wing gamers who opposed the increasing influence of women and feminism in the industry. Notably, Gamergate acted as a recruitment tool for the emerging alt-right movement and played a role in propagating the online “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which later gave rise to the broader QAnon conspiracy movement. Another instance of hate speech related to culture and ethnicity is the Christchurch Mosque Shootings. Just before his deadly attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, the perpetrator posted a 74-page manifesto on 8chan titled “The Great Replacement.” This manifesto referred to a conspiracy narrative outlined by Renaud Camus in his book ‘Le Grand Replacement.’ In the manifesto, the attacker justified mass murder as necessary to defend Europe against what he saw as an ongoing “cultural and ethnic genocide” caused by multiculturalism and mass immigration. In his post, he urged others to spread his message, create memes, and engage in online activities. This serves as a stark example of how virtual platforms can be exploited to promote hate speech.
Internationally as well as domestically there are laws against hate speech. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in Article 19(1) states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”. 19(2) mentions about “freedom of expression”. In addition, this can be “either orally, in writing or print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. However, these rights can be curtailed as provided by law and are necessary, (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others, (b) For the protection of national security or of public order or public health or morals. Article 20 states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in Article 4 mentions that “States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to this end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In Sri Lanka, there are four laws against hate speech. Namely, the International Covenant On Civil and Political Rights Act 56 of 2007, The Penal Code Ordinance No. 2 of 1883, The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 Of 1979 and regulations under it as well as the Police Ordinance (No. 16 of 1865).
There are social media regulations as well. For example, Transparency Center, states that on Facebook, “We’re committed to making Facebook a safe place. We remove content that could contribute to a risk of harm to the physical security of persons. Content that threatens people has the potential to intimidate, exclude or silence others and isn’t allowed on Facebook.” An example of a global imitative is, the United Nations Population Fund. It is a (UNFPA) “global movement to address gendered hate speech online. It co-convenes the Advisory Group to the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, and issued the UNFPA Guidance on Safe and Ethical Technology for Gender-Based Violence and Harmful Practices.”. An example of another global initiative is, Social Media 4 Peace, which was “Initiated in January 2021 in three pilot countries, with the support of the European Union, this UNESCO project aims to strengthen the resilience of societies to potentially harmful content spread online – in particular hate speech inciting violence – while protecting freedom of expression and promoting peace through digital technologies, notably social media.”
In spite of all the measures in place, the prevalence of hate speech in our daily lives continues to escalate, and this is a genuine tragedy. Therefore, it is imperative that we do not merely react to hate speech but take proactive steps to prevent it from occurring. Addressing hate speech in the 21st century requires a multifaceted approach that involves all stakeholders and paradigms. To enhance the effectiveness of hate speech prevention, several additional measures can be employed. For instance, governments worldwide should prioritize media literacy, enabling individuals to critically evaluate information. Furthermore, it is essential to promote counter-narratives to counteract hate speech campaigns. Additionally, educational initiatives should be strengthened to instill good practices and nurture empathetic individuals.
Robotization and the Future of Humanity
Robotization is the final form of capitalist degeneration of humanity. Capitalism does not transform robots into humans, but humans into robots. Instead of human evolution having a historical character, it takes on a technocratic character. Capitalism destroys man’s personality and reduces him to a functional component of technical processes through which capitalism destroys the human and living world. Marx’s concept of “reification” (Verdinglichung) points to the prevailing tendency of world development. Capitalism abolishes man as a human and natural being and turns him into technical means for the development of capitalism.
Robots are a projection of the capitalistically degenerated humanity. Capitalism abolishes interpersonal relationships and, in doing so, abolishes man as social being. Society becomes a crowd of atomized individuals reduced to a labor-consumer mass. People lose the need for human connection. Man no longer seeks humanity in another man, but in virtual worlds, pets and technological devices. Robots become a substitute for human beings.
Measured by capitalist criteria, one of the most significant advantages of robots over humans is that robots, as technical “beings,” can constantly be improved based on the productivist efficiency that has a profitable character. The rate of capital turnover is the driving force behind the robotization of humans and the technization of the world. In the end, the process of robotization comes down to the development of capitalism, which involves the increasingly intensive destruction of man as a human and life-creating being. Robotization indicates that there are no limits to the capitalist future.
This is especially significant when it comes to the “conquest of space.” The technocratic approach to space and to the cosmic future of humanity is conditioned by a dehumanized technocratic mind. Man is abolished as a historical being, and thereby as a unique and irreplaceable cosmic being. Rather than endeavoring to create a humane cosmos, man is instead, through technical means, abolished as a human and natural being and reduced to cosmic processes that have an energetic and mechanical character.
Robots are an organic part of the technical world, and their characteristics are conditioned by the nature of capitalism. They are mass-produced and, as such, disposable commodities. Robots are not social or historical beings; they lack emotions, mind, libertarian dignity, cultural and national self-awareness, moral criteria, rights, they don’t get sick, they work 24 hours a day as programmed, they are replaceable, and can be instantly turned off and destroyed…
Capitalists do not strive to create robots that are increasingly similar to humans in their qualities but rather humans who are increasingly similar to robots. Humans are not the role models for robots; robots are the role models for humans. Through the spectacular model of robots, capitalist propaganda machinery imposes on people the image of the capitalist man of the future. In reality, robots are surrogates of humans turned by capitalism into ideal slaves.
Sport is an area where the robotization of humans in the existing world has reached its highest level. The human body has become a technical means to achieve records, and the “quest for records” is based on a productivistic fanaticism with a technical and destructive character. This is what defines the personality of an athlete, as well as their relation to the world and the future.
Considering that capitalism is increasingly destroying the living conditions in which man as a natural and human being can survive, the distinctive ability of robots to function in environments that are deadly to humans becomes of paramount importance. The destruction of the living environment devalues man as a human and natural being and further encourages the process of robotization.
Robotization suggests that capitalism can survive without humans. In the capitalistically degenerated world, humanity is not just superfluous; it has become an impediment to “progress.” With the development of consumer society, which means capitalism’s becoming a totalitarian order of destruction, capitalism has come to the final reckoning with the living world and with man as a human and natural being. Man has become an “obsolete being” that is to conclude his cosmic odyssey in the capitalist landfill.
Talking tolerance in polarised societies
EU research projects provide fresh insights into what it takes for communities to accept different religious and world views.
By ALISON JONES
Ann Trappers harnessed a shock in her native Belgium to help heal social wounds across Europe.
After Islamic terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 left 35 people – including three suicide bombers – dead and more than 300 injured, Trappers and her colleagues at a non-governmental organisation called Foyer sought to rebuild community trust and cohesion.
They used the NGO’s long-established youth centre in the religiously and ethnically diverse neighbourhood of Molenbeek. Their experience fed into a research initiative that received EU funding to explore and foster religious tolerance in eight European countries.
‘One of the ways in which we worked to counter radicalisation was to ensure it didn’t become a taboo subject,’ said Trappers, programme coordinator at Foyer. ‘We wanted young people to be able to talk about it freely and safely in the setting of the youth centre.’
Concerns about growing polarisation in Europe have pushed the issue up the EU political agenda.
The portfolio of a vice-president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, includes dialogue with churches as well as religious associations and communities. The portfolio is called “Promoting our European Way of Life”.
The EU is also putting its weight behind various initiatives – including the Radicalisation Awareness Network – aimed at helping communities in Europe live harmoniously together.
The EU project in which Trappers was involved ran from May 2018 through October 2022 and was called RETOPEA. It brought together academic organisations from Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland and Spain as well as non-EU countries North Macedonia and the UK.
The project explored ways in which religion is regarded in the educational, professional and social realms. It also examined how peaceful religious coexistence has been established over history.
Past and present
The idea was to use insights gained from the past to inform thinking about religious tolerance today.
‘It’s not often you get the opportunity as a historian to make your work relevant,’ said Patrick Pasture, who coordinated RETOPEA and is a professor of modernity and society at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium.
The project delved into more than 400 primary source extracts from historical peace treaties, contemporary news reports and cultural snippets.
Based on these materials, teenagers from Foyer and other youth associations in each of the participating countries joined workshops to create their own video blog – or “vlog” – about religious tolerance and coexistence.
The vlogs, available on the RETOPEA website, include interviews with passersby, drawings and other creative work.
Pasture said the act of working together took the focus away from the participants’ differences.
‘The most important thing will always be that people have to learn to talk – to refrain from immediately judging,’ he said.
Spreading the word
Pasture was struck by the number of students who were unaware of the religious beliefs of classmates and by how open they were to talking about the issue.
He said most participants were upset about the divisiveness of contemporary discussions of religion and ‘hated’ the rise of polarisation.
Around a year after RETOPEA wrapped up, the results and materials collected are informing actions by interfaith organisations, governmental bodies and European teacher associations.
The project team is regularly invited to make presentations at teaching workshops and seminars in the EU and beyond – places ranging from Austria and Italy to Jordan and Wales.
And the European Association of History Educators – established in 1992 to build educational bridges on the continent following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe – includes the RETOPEA materials on its website.
Another EU-funded research project looked specifically at the notion of tolerance – how it feels for people to push themselves to accept “others” and what it feels like to be “tolerated.” The research relied mainly on questionnaires and online experiments.
‘People have their own opinions and their own beliefs and we can’t just expect them to give them up and consider everything of equal value,’ said Maykel Verkuyten, who led the initiative and is a professor in interdisciplinary social science at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Called InTo for Intergroup Toleration, the project ran for five years through September 2022.
In conducting studies in the Netherlands and Germany, Verkuyten and his team were pleasantly surprised to find that a clear majority of people regarded tolerance as an important societal value.
He said that most respondents agreed with, for example, the following two presented statements: “I accept it when other people do things that I wholeheartedly disapprove of” and “Everyone is allowed to live as he or she wants, even if it is at odds with what I think is good and right”.
On a cautionary note, the team also found that it’s far easier to move people towards greater intolerance than it is to make them more tolerant.
Verkuyten is driven by an interest in the middle ground of the whole subject – where space exists for differing views without any desire either to crush or to celebrate them.
He said this zone must be promoted through civics courses, human-rights lessons and other educational initiatives to help ensure the health of democracies and multicultural societies.
‘There is something in between being very negative, discriminatory, and fully embracing all diversity,’ Verkuyten said. ‘That’s essential for a functioning liberal democracy and indispensable for a culturally diverse society.’
Research in this article was funded by the EU via the European Research Council (ERC). This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
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