Is social media driving a rise in hate speech?

Is social media driving a rise in hate speech?

In 2019, some state governments moved to ban smartphone in classrooms – the most recent being Western Australia, which announced the ban in all state schools to avoid distraction and other external issues caused by digital devices.

Some experts say the phone ban in WA, NSW and Victoria was implemented with good reason. A growing body of research suggests that extended use of digital devices negatively affects the brain.

A 2017 study by the Radiological Society of North America found that smartphone addiction in particular creates imbalance in the brain, causing addition, depression and anxiety.

New research from the office of the eSafety commissioner reveals that exposure to smartphones and social media has created another disturbing issue.

The study found that out of 3,737 Australians aged 18 to 65, 14% -- or about one in every seven -- said they were a target of online hate speech in the 12 months leading up to August 2019.

These respondents said they had received messages online – usually through social media sites like Facebook and Instagram— that offended them because of their personal identity or beliefs, specifically when it concerns religion, political views, race and gender.

The report also found that younger adults were also more likely to have been recipients of hate speech online.

Who are the most vulnerable?

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant said that the research also showed that Australian internet users who are part of the LGBT community or from Indigenous backgrounds are “more than twice as likely to experience online hate speech, which can inflict serious harm.”

More than half or 58% of the survey respondents who felt targeted by hate speech said they felt harmed and had experienced mental or emotional stress. Others also reported going through relationship problems or reputational damage.

However, 64% of the respondents who experienced hate speech said they took no action while almost 36% blocked the contact, reported the message, or spoke to a friend or family member.

As for the perpetrators of hate speech, the report found that they would target strangers and are “motivated by a desire to amuse, harass or embarrass their targets.”

Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said the report provides further evidence that cyber abuse has become a significant public policy challenge.

“That’s why we are developing sensible, proportionate and pragmatic policy responses,” Minister Fletcher said.

“This includes the Government’s recently announced proposal to create a new cyber abuse scheme for Australian adults to tackle the most serious forms of online abuse, as part of the new Online Safety Act which we have committed to introduce”.