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Traditional media should work to curb hate speech perpetuated by social media tools — experts

By Dana Al Emam - Aug 02,2015 - Last updated at Aug 02,2015

Media specialists and officials participate in a discussion at a ceremony in Amman on Sunday marking the conclusion of the first phase of a project addressing online hate speech (Photo by Osama Aqarbeh)

AMMAN — Media outlets bear a major responsibility in spreading awareness on the consequences of online hate speech as well as presenting a moderate counter discourse, experts said Sunday.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the conclusion of the first phase of a project addressing online hate speech, experts added that the growth of social media tools as platforms for self-expression should be accompanied by respect for others.

An atmosphere of prejudgments, stereotypes and labels is present among Jordanian social media users, according to project manager Suha Ayyash, who cited extremism as a result of online hate speech.

With an average of four to eight hours spent daily on social media websites, around 80 per cent of young people heavily use Facebook, with at least one viral Twitter hashtag every two days, she said, pointing out the need for accountability over published online content, without restricting freedom of speech.

Jordan was “the first Arab country to legally ban hate speech”, an initiative followed by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Ayyash noted, adding that 29 countries worldwide prohibit hate speech.  

The first phase of the project, titled “Youth to Combat Online Hate Speech in Jordan”, started in February and lasted for six months, engaging 50 young people in training sessions on countering hate speech and creating an alternative online content that is more “loving”, respectful and inclusive.

For his part, Maj. Raed Rawashdeh, head of the electronic crimes section at the Public Security Department, said the law penalises slander.

There are 12 million Internet users in Jordan, with a total of 12 million active smartphone users, according to Rawashdeh, who added that the department dealt with 1,8000 cases of electronic crimes in 2014, 60 per cent of which were hate speech.

He cited an “increasing” workload in curbing cybercrimes, including hate speech, adding that authorities monitor social media outlets to prevent abuse.     

Jordan News Agency, Petra, Director General Faisal Shboul said the “most dangerous” characteristic of the Daesh terror group is its ability to influence public opinion through social media tools, mainly Twitter, which do not require an official licence.

He added that sectarianism is another threat in the region that could be nurtured through online hate speech.

Meanwhile, for Deputy Mahmoud Kharabsheh, international initiatives to combat hate speech are “inconsistent” and selective at times.

Nonetheless, he said local media outlets should be more effective in directing public opinion towards further awareness on the issue.

Commenting on the project, organisers Iyad Al Jaber and Fatemah Aqarbeh told The Jordan Times that it is the first in the region to tackle this concept, adding that it aims to mobilise young people and empower them through “unconventional” training that speaks to their minds.

 

Participants in the first phase came up with nine projects to be implemented offline, while the second phase will expand on spreading awareness.

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