Useful tools for responding to online racism

How can we best respond to online racism and hate?

Social media is the “new village square,” and is increasingly the place where everyday racism is amplified.  In extreme cases, it is also where white-supremacist-leaning people are radicalised and turn to violence, as we saw with the horrific murders of 51 people in Christchurch mosques in March this year.

So how do we take back the village square?  How do we reclaim social media as a place of respect and positivity?

Thanks to the smart folk at Action Station Aotearoa, we now have some useful tools for changing the tone of social media which are quick, easy and available to everyone.

I was fortunate last year to be part of an Action Station pilot programme called Tauiwi Tautoko (Non-Māori acting in support of Māori) – see the resulting report here.  The purpose of the programme is to counter online racism towards Māori simply by shifting the tone of online comments to mainstream news stories (particularly stories appearing on Radio NZ and Stuff) through respect and positivity.   And, while Tauiwi Tautoko is primarily and sensibly aimed at reducing racism towards Māori, the same principles apply to all forms of prejudice and hate.

Tauiwi Tautoko’s approach  is based on good evidence, including Jess Berentson-Shaw’s excellent book “Matter of Fact” (Bridget Williams Books, 2018), which found that:

  • Arguing and insults are ineffective at countering racism.
  • Myth-busting is also ineffective at countering racism
  • Racist attitudes follow a standard bell-curve. Changing the attitudes of extreme racists is difficult, but people in the middle are usually open to reasonable and compassionate points of view.  And, when there is a critical mass of reason and compassion, the whole bell curve starts moving towards respect and tolerance
  • Additionally, there are usually more people “lurking” (ie reading and not posting) than there are people posting.  It is easy to assume that negative and racist comments are the norm when this is all we see.  And we need to change this norm.

What this means in practice is following a pretty simple approach: if we have a few minutes to spare, find a news story on Facebook or other social media which is likely to attract intolerant or racist comments and do some – or all – of the following:

  1. Like positive and respectful comments from others
  2. Add respectful and positive comments of our own
  3. Respectfully engage with people expressing racist views when you feel up for it
  4. Avoid insults and arguing, and don’t try to myth-bust

If you are interested in learning more about how do this, Action Station is running a Tauiwi Tautoko training programme in August and you can sign up here.   Personally I have found the Tauiwi Tautoko experience rewarding and quite liberating, because now I have an easy way to be part of the solution.  And, if there are many of us contributing as we can, our collective impact will counter online racism and reclaim social media as a place of respect and positivity.

So, if addressing online racism in Aotearoa New Zealand is important to you, sign up for Tauiwi Tautoko.

Or just do it.

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  1. I’ve just been involved in a conversation about implied racism towards another ethnic group and how to respond so the timing of your post is really timely. Thanks for the link Kate. I’m off to sign up!

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