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How to use social media to combat hate

Posted: Oct. 19, 2015 | Tags: religion

More than 8,000 gathered for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which ended Monday in Salt Lake City. This is the first parliament since 2009 and the first in the United States since 1993. The international organization is dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue and action for the betterment of global society. Workshop intern Ashley Campbell, a former employee of the organization, is now studying journalism at the School of Communication and filed this blog post.

SALT LAKE CITY — Can social media be used to combat hate speech — or does it foster it?

That was the question this weekend during one of the workshops at The Parliament of the World’s Religions, an international, interfaith gathering Oct. 15-19. 

Todd Gallinger, an attorney and graduate student in Islamic leadership at the Claremont School of Theology / Bayan Claremont, attempted to define hate speech but said it is “highly subjective.” 

“It’s one of these issues like pornography. Where maybe we know it when we see it, but at the same time it’s very hard to come up with a precise definition,” Gallinger said.   

Yet, there are clear examples of hate speech and harassment online. Gallinger, as a Muslim, said a simple Google search shows how much anti-Muslim hate speech is on the Internet. He also cited the example of the online group, Fat People Hate, which was banned on Reddit in June 2015

How then, as individuals and organizations, can we take advantage of social-media platforms to combat hate speech? 

Through hashtag movements such as #blacklivesmatter, panelists said. 

Specific hashtag movements are a way to initiate dialogue around an issue with the goal of solidarity and action. Tahil Sharma, the youth representative to the United Nations for the Parliament and communications consultant with Religions for Peace, emphasized the need for a directed hashtag. 

Sharma compared #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmater. It’s a matter of generalization versus exclusivity, he said. A generalized hashtag fosters an ability to ignore a specific problem rather than mobilize for change. 

“At the end of the day, if the process is helping you to not only create solidarity but mutual action in the bigger community, then you know it’s being used positively,” Sharma said of social media. 

April Bolin, a religious None (someone who answers “none” when asked with what religion they are affiliated or identify with), and also a minister and clinical social worker in the San Francisco Bay area, said that social media allows her to call people out on their hurtful views. Bolin described herself as an introvert who is not as likely to express a view in person, but said social media allows her to be an extrovert. 

Unlike some of the other attendees, Bolin doesn’t see the value in shying away from confrontation on social media. 

“You can’t move forward if you’re being careful. You can’t make change happen if you’re being careful,” Bolin said. 

Twila York, a pagan from Chicago and event coordinator for Greater Chicagoland Pagan Pride, also finds social media a useful tool. She intends to try to use social media to mobilize interfaith dialogues in Chicago to overcome the discrimination and hate speech directed at the pagan community.  

York’s goal to mobilize people echoes the idea that panelist Tasneem Noor, founder of Noor Enterprises: SOULful Transformation, expressed.  

Noor said social media allows us to tell stories about what’s going on and initiate dialogue. That is not the end though, she said. 

“Use it to ask questions. Use it to send invitations,” Noor said.

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