In today's Malta Independent I commented about the hate speech situation in Malta, together with University of Malta colleagues Brenda Murphy and JosAnn Cutajar.
You can read the feature here:
Some further comments from my end:
There are trolls, fake profiles and keyboard warriors who seem to have no problem using abusive language on social media platforms like Facebook. Among the reasons why such language is so present I would assume that as a small island state, many are engaged in hyperpersonal politics which is based on loyalty towards one’s tribe, thus considering the ‘other’ as being wrong merely because of his or her affiliation or non-affiliation.
Yet we also witness hate speech on the basis of race, gender and other social factors, including personal ones, which is also the case across social media platforms around the world. For example last week AP News reported that white supremacist propaganda surged in the USA last year. This can be linked to the rise of snackable media, the speed of which may impact the quality of deliberation negatively, the strong presence of politics and activism which refuses to engage with the ‘other’, and the challenges faced by policy projects which focus on responsibility and ethics.
I commend recent efforts made by social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, wherein they inform readers that the reliability of a source is doubtful or fake. In liberal democratic societies, free speech is a basic right, but readers also have the right to know that the information they are being given is correct.
At the same time, I also believe that we need a stronger framework for responsible communication. For example, academics are bound by ethical standards when they present findings or quote other studies, and this is only fair. Similarly, ethical standards or norms could bind journalists, politicians, candidates, activists, influencers, bloggers and even the general public. We need to invest more in education through which social media users can be equipped how to distinguish between a reliable source and a fake one, a proper journalist and a self-appointed one, a scientist and a quack. Ethical standards can be set up amongst political and journalistic communities, for example to double-check sources before splashing slogans.