You’ve probably been spending an increased amount of time online lately (a global pandemic tends to have that effect) for some semblance of connection and community during iso.
While what we see online are usually things like bosses unable to turn off a potato filter on Zoom, sometimes you can stumble upon racism, discrimination and downright ignorance.
And sometimes some of these comments, even if not directed at you, can feel like a personal attack. Even though I’ll be the first to admit I take everything personally, I’ve recently learned you should do the usually the complete opposite.
I spoke to Kosta Lucas, an expert on preventing and countering violent extremism who was also the MC at last year’s DIGI Engage, which helps young people tackle divisions and hate speech online.
He tells me that there’s no one reason someone might say something hateful online but that it may stem from a desire for entertainment, information seeking, socialising and identity building.
Translation? It’s about the personal and social needs of the person saying something hateful, and, above all, their gratification. It’s not about you.
“Some people literally profit off of the attention, or enjoy the supposed influence and affirmation of people agreeing with them,” he explains.
“Others might express these ideas because they think they’re screaming into the void and what they say ultimately has no impact. Some people don’t know how to express what they’re really feeling (or why they’re feeling it). It’s really complex.”
So how do you prevent hateful comments from impacting your wellbeing? Kosta suggests you “understand the mechanics of hate speech and racism in order to try and depersonalise it”.
DIGI Engage, an immersive youth summit this June 25-26, actually brings together young Aussies who are committed to stopping hate speech and extremism. Applying to register for the two half days, taking place online this year, could help you better understand the behaviours.
Sunita Bose, Managing Director of DIGI, the organisation that has been organising this conference for four years, explains:
“Technology has an unparalleled power to bring people with shared interests together, but sometimes we see it drive people apart through hate speech and other extreme online content.
“Through DIGI Engage, we’re working to empower young people to be a powerful force to unify people in the face of issues that may otherwise divide us,” Sunita said.
Talking to someone you trust about the comments that made you feel a certain way can also help.
“It might sound basic, but finding an environment that validates how and why something hurts, is a pretty powerful way of shedding yourself of its impact on you going forward,” Kosta says.
He makes a point. How many of you have felt better about something, simply by getting it out in the open? I know I have. It doesn’t make it go away, but it sure as hell acknowledges the situation, and, more importantly, how it made you feel.
Then there’s the complex subject of understanding that all of us are wired differently.
Obviously it’s so hard, when someone says or does something cruel or malicious, to boil it down to differences. Some actions just don’t feel justifiable.
But, echoing the same sentiment as above, the more you can wrap your head around a horrible action or comment having nothing to do with you, the sooner you can shift that accountability to them and the issues they have as a person.
Everyone’s fighting their own battles, and no, that doesn’t make it ok, but it does make their behaviour less of an attack on you.
Kosta says, “Once you can see, with the help of others, that racism and xenophobia has very little to do with you as a person and much more to do with how someone else might be seeing themselves, you unburden yourself.”
While social tensions and divides online (and offline) are alive and well, there’s also a great deal of support – look at the way we’ve joined together over a very difficult last couple of months, uniting while isolated from each other in a way we never have before.
These days, the world wide web is super-duper important in how we uplift and band together – and I’m talking about so much more than just a fire emoji on your latest ‘gram.