Freelance international | Capacity Building and negotiation | Advising on Authors’ Rights | Safety and Press Freedom
The Nordic scene at the Helsinki Book Fair 29th-30th October took the responsibility to stress the needs to fight an increasing hatred language taken place online in particular.
Hiding behind the computer or sitting in a corner using a smart phone it has become easier to escalate hatred. Authors, journalists and politicians in particular receive threats, e-mails or sms’ full of hate speech, and social media on top of this have changed the rhetoric. A challenge we need to meet, if we don’t want to escalate hatred.
At the Helsinki Book Fair in October 2016 on behalf of the Danish Embassy, the Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic School of Journalism, I carried out a session on how to counter hate speech.
Danish poem launched
To replace the normal role of a keynote speaker, the Danish author Knud Steffen Nielsen has worked out a poetry launched at the book fair. From the poem:
The air full of summer heat. I was wearing swimming togs too. My mind started to flicker. Picked up a stone, as I so often do; love skimming stones. But this one was not flat but just a stone, like a stone can only be a stone. I flung it in his direction. Wished/Did not wish it to hit him but perhaps only give him a fright ….but it came unnervingly close to him
And some other moments in the poem switching to the online society:
- “If you don’t stop your blogging I will smash your parent’s faces.”
- The freedom of knowing where somebody lives. “I know where you live.”
- And this you must know: I would always, without exception, fight for your right to have the same opinion as me.
“I started worrying”
The Faroese news editor, Liljan Weihe followed up telling her story, and how she was sexual offended as worst receiving online abuses. An appalling story that took place in a small society:
I wasn't physically abused, I didn't personally know the men who threatened me on Facebook but the threat changed the way I saw myself. I am self-confident, strong and independent. But the threats frightened me, made me feel weak and insecure. I started worrying about which signals I was sending out and asked myself if I had somehow provoked the rape threat…
We need more than ever to talk about and debate, how we can fight such hate speech, and that was the aim of the two sessions in Helsinki: Through literature and journalism!
Peter Mickwitz, author from Finland stressed, that literature is a way to show how far, hatred can bring us and that we need to stop and reflect. Reeta Pöyhtäri, postdoctoral researcher from the University of Tampere commented on the topic, namely how literature and journalism should be key tools to counter hate speech.
She also emphasized the need of more high quality journalism, as it is too easy only to get the information you want and find the dialogue that suits you. Therefore, she urged to invest in independent journalism and pluralistic media. The panel also agreed that through literature it is possible to disseminate the message of the consequences of threats and abuses. (Reeta Pöyhtäri at the Bookfair, Photo: Mogens B. Bjerregård)
Ten point guidelines to counter hate speech
For the way forward, I as a conclusion of the session delivered a draft of guidelines to counter online hate speech. For the audience at the Nordic Scene and the viewers on the streaming it was obvious that we need to find ways to use a language without hatred. To do that we need to talk about it, and that was exactly what the organizers succeeded in. The guidelines can be read at the attached link:
It was impressing to see how the Nordic embassies in cooperation have been able to set the scene on Nordic topics and let the visitors at the book fair have a pit stop to reflect. Surely, the session about poetry countering hate speech provided reflections.