Think before you troll: Campaign shows real victims of hate comments

Photo: archive of Hate Free Culture project

A freshly launched online campaign aims to curb trolling on the Czech internet. Actual comments – including those wishing all kinds of deaths on gays, Muslims and members of other minorities – are superimposed on photos of 40 or so targets of such venom in the campaign We’re all in this together, which has caused quite a stir. The person behind it is Lukáš Houdek, from the government’s Hate Free Culture project.

Photo: archive of Hate Free Culture project
“The idea was first to show the real comments and the real people – that when you write a hate comment on Facebook or in an online discussion very often you don’t see the real person who is going to be hit by the comment.

“But of course there is always somebody on the other side who will read it and who can be traumatised.

“The second aim was to show that this concerns everybody; it doesn’t matter which group you belong to – you can always be a target of hate speech.

“It doesn’t matter if you are famous, or if you aren’t. If you are a Muslim, a Roma or a blonde woman, it doesn’t matter, because you can always be a target of hate speech.”

Don’t you think perhaps that there could be a danger that you’re preaching to the converted with this campaign? Because people who already dislike this kind of trolling will surely just agree with it, but perhaps it will be just a red rag to the kind of people who write such comments as these.

“There is always such a danger. But we are focusing mostly on those who are not at either extreme, people who are in the middle and who are probably not writing such extreme comments but they could – or they don’t really think about it.

“This is targeting them, so that they can think about it before they write something like that – even to their friends.”

Lukáš Houdek, photo: David Vaughan
Some of the comments that you use in this campaign are really outrageous, with language referring to gas chambers and God knows what. Do you think they reflect Czech society or the Czech internet?

“I think it’s more a reflection of the internet. As we could see in our experiment with refugees from Syria [a video in which ordinary Czechs in a small town for the most part welcomed purported refugees], when people are face to face with some people they never treat them in the way they do on the internet.

“I think we are not really very strong in communication online. It’s maybe because we just don’t have so much experience with it and we don’t really think about the impact of what we are writing.”

In your campaign literature you say that almost two and a half million hate comments have been made on the Czech internet in the last six months. Where did you find that number?

“We work with a company called Yeseter which monitors hate speech on the Czech internet for us. Thanks to key words, we can monitor how people comment about them.

“So these two and a half million comments were only written about Roma, Jews, refugees, Muslims and the LGBT community.

“Thanks to these key words we can know how many radical comments we have on line. But of course there are more of them, because we cannot really monitor all groups.”

Photo: Philippe Ramakers / freeimages
I know you’ve only launched this campaign, but so far what has been the reaction?

“Very positive. We had only negative reactions in the case of one photo, in which there is a Czech model who herself sometimes writes hate comments on Facebook.

“There is a lively discussion about why she is part of the campaign when she is not hate free.

“That’s a question – can we write hate comments against people who write not very good comments themselves? And we think that [doing so] isn’t good, at all.

“This has got some kind of negative response, but the other responses have been very positive until now.”