Very often, posts on social media do not convey tone very well, leaving the reader unable to gauge the emotion of the originator. As a result, the recipient may respond too hastily to content posted, and inadvertently create a hostile environment for themselves without even realising it. As this hostility intensifies, and when taken to extreme levels, the victim can find themselves the target of a sustained hate campaign.
The genesis of hate campaigns
Hate campaigns have their origins set back as far as history allows us to trace, with the perpetrators ranging from governments to individuals. The phrase itself surfaced in the 1980’s, although the term is used on a far wider basis today then in previous years. The genesis of a hate campaign can be a result of many different factors, although they all seem to have one thing in common. From targeting an individual for their ethnic origin or religious beliefs to an organisation for their policies around environmental factors, or the way that they conduct their daily business all relate to the same keyword – persecution.
a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group
The term above generally applies to individuals, but can also be attributed to hate campaigns involving organisations. The term “campaign” is an important feature to note, as it generally translates to not one activity, but a multitude – in other words, ongoing. By their very definition, the content of these campaigns quickly becomes group orientated as more people join the debate, and with multiple input generating multiple output, the subject of a hate campaign can easily find themselves the target of nothing more than a witch hunt. Unfortunately, all it takes is for one person to fan the flames – turning an ignited match into a forest fire, and engulfing the victim in the process – you can align the term “adding fuel to the fire” with hate campaigns – the more fuel you add, the larger the scale and damage potential. It is also very easy for the content to become distorted and detached from the original argument or truth, which merely adds fuel to an already raging fire. As a result, hate campaigns can very quickly exceed the defined objective, lose focus of the original reasoning or meaning, and attract bias, prejudice, and violence. But where does this fit into today’s technology ?
Technology and social media
Early hate campaigns needed a mode of transport in order to spread, and unless the perpetrator could engage a newspaper or alternative medium with a wider audience, the likelihood would be that the campaign would be extinct before it even started. Another example is the poison pen letter – usually containing unpleasant, abusive, malicious or salacious statements and / or accusations in relation to the recipient or an associated third party. This medium is typically sent anonymously – usually composed and sent to upset and undermine the recipient. In previous incarnations, these would have typically been hand written, and took a while to compose. Being reliant on the postal systems of the period, the content may not have had the desired impact on arrival owing to how much time had elapsed. Social media, however, changes the paradigm completely in terms of the speed in which a hate campaign can be delivered, maintained, and distributed.
We live in an “always on” world, with smartphones, tablets and computers constantly connected to an ever evolving and expanding network of social media, messaging, and email. These platforms have become the preferred launchpad of numerous hate campaigns, and provide the perpetrator with an immediate trigger-like response mechanism – allowing them to post vile comments, ridicule the original author, and make statements without foundation based on their own opinions rather than fact. The campaign can take various twists and turns during it’s run, and can “pick up and drop off” co-authors along the way. Each one these additional authors either knowingly or unknowingly exacerbates the hate campaign with their own comments, and within a very short space of time, multiple people are harassing and hounding one victim to breaking point.
The physical and emotional effect of hate campaigns depends mainly on the recipient. There are two ends of this scale; to those who are classed as “thick skinned” (or even insensitive), it is “water off a duck’s back” – there are also types of people that no matter what is being thrown at them during a campaign, they remain impassive – immune, and without emotion – in other words, nothing sticks, and the content poses no threat to the recipient. On the other end of the scale are those who are very sensitive, and will take any content immediately to heart. Some victims of hate campaigns are vulnerable, which leads to a dramatic change in their emotional and physical state – in some cases, the sheer pressure and onslaught of a spiteful and relentless campaign can lead to a feeling of self-loathing or worthlessness on the part of the victim, and can have tragic consequences as a result.
How do hate campaigns start ?
There isn’t any trigger as such that serves as the ignition for a hate campaign. On the part of individuals, it can be something as simple as a post in a public group, forum, or the content of an email chain. However, the most common causes are
- The breakdown of a relationship where one side of the failed partnership uses social media as a means of voicing discontent by posting inflammatory comments and other undesirable content. Such a forum of a public nature is designed to attract the attention of a wider audience, such as mutual friends or acquaintances who also use the same platform – some will distance themselves, whilst others who have previously been “scorned” by the victim will see this as a chance to exact revenge and offer their input – wanted or not.
- The topic of religion has proven to be a sensitive talking point over the years, and with recent activity in Syria (amongst others), anti-semitic views or the promotion of alternative religions within a limited space can trigger hate campaigns targeted at those who are classed as non-believers. Such campaigns often exceed the initial remit very quickly, and become nothing more than a mechanism to promote hate using religion as the primary reason and focus.
- Those with learning difficulties are often the target of hate campaigns. Despite being difficult to comprehend why, this is on the increase – often switching from virtual to physical campaigns very quickly, with the target being bullied and physically abused as a result.
- Racial discrimination is a very common starting point for hate campaigns. Despite a number of changes to anti-racial laws over the years, this type of campaign is rife, and far more popular than it should be in this day and age. Some hate campaigns have been known to become physical – stepping outside of the virtual world and attracting violence, discrimination, and pack animal like attitudes within some minority groups.
- Dismissal from a job, or group membership termination is another trigger for hate campaigns. The affected individual usually attempts to rally support from other people, and creates a hostile environment for the target (be this an institution or one person). Attempts are made to smear, cause public embarrassment, and discredit the target – some of these hate campaigns have become very aggressive in their nature, and have ultimately been brought to a dramatic close via a court of law.
- Media hate campaigns have been known to surface as a result of a statement made by an individual or organisation that has been taken out of context. The goal of such a campaign is reputation damage – sometimes far beyond the lines of what should be considered sane reasoning, and often with very damaging results.
- Hate campaigns based on fiction rather than fact. A good example of this is an individual who has been accused of something that they actually not guilty of – be it rape, indecent assault, or any activity of a nature that immediately causes outrage. The hatred for such crimes intensifies any campaign – often leading to violence, and in some cases, revenge attacks, and even murder. In some cases, such extreme outcomes can be the result of misinformation, or mistaken identity.
What can be done to stop this ?
The campaigns listed above all have something in common – prejudice. Regardless of race, ethnic origin, religion, physical ability, or mental state, nobody has the right to inflict damage of this level on another. By the same reference, those who are victims of such hate campaigns should not feel alone. The police take prejudice related crime very seriously, and there are organisations such as “Stop the hate” that can assist, and offer help when needed. There are also a growing number of Hate Incident Reporting Centres that exist to provide support, and a mechanism for safe reporting of an incident. The article featured here does an excellent job of detailing accredited bodies and institutions that exist in order to to deal with this growing criminal activity.
So, the next time you post something on social media that could be considered harmful – be it a joke or not – think about the potential consequences. You could be responsible for the ruination of another person. Think before you post.