Using Social Media for Hate Speech is not Freedom of Expression!

Using Social Media for Hate Speech is not Freedom of Expression!*

[Türkçesi için tıklayınız / Click here for Turkish]

Mutlu Binark
Başkent University, Faculty of Communication
Tuğrul Çomu
Ankara University, Institute of Social Sciences

We should always remember that
we are walking in hell
looking at the flowers…
we are drying out
fading and dying away
lacking love and virtue
we are just walking in hell
we are drying the flowers,
lacking love and conscience
we are just walking in hell
we are shooting pigeons…
we are just walking in hell, just walking in hell…

We should always remember this …

As the members of the Foundation of Alternative Informatics, we have been working on hate speech circulated, vulgarised and then finally popularised on the Internet since 2009. In our study titled Yeni Medyada Nefret Söylemi (2010, Kalkedon Yayınları), we drew attention to hate speech increasing in different milieus of the new media and stated that hate speech lays the foundations of hate crimes.

When we take a look at the hate speech produced and diffused by especially Twitter and Facebook users in Turkey [1] and when we learn that Facebook has, despite the complaints, refused to close the “fan” pages praising the murderers of Hrant Dink, who became a victim of hate crime on January 19th, 2007, and supporting such hate crimes on the grounds that it would be against “freedom of expression,” we understand much better that we are facing the two-facedness, or more seriously hypocrisy,  of (our) society and companies that operate and generate income  over the Internet [2]. In fact, this hypocrisy has permeated into every single institution in (our) society including but not limited to political power, jurisdiction, legislative bodies and fundamental education institutions. Each time the opposition and media talk in favour of rights and freedoms, the political power marks their initiatives as a “terrorist act”. We have an educational system which allows a teacher to ask “Is there any Alevi in the class? [3]” The jurisdiction rendered a verdict on an organised and planned hate crime by ignoring the crime and a member of jurisdiction simply said “The verdict has not satisfied me, either.” [4] Given all these facts, it becomes evident how and where the hypocrisy has been grounded.[5]

As is known, the term hate speech is used for all types of expression popularising, promoting, defending or justifying hate which results from intolerance and is fed by prejudices. The Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued in 1997 covers the internationally accepted definition of the term. Accordingly, “the term “hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance.”

Hatred based on intolerance includes intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin ( Stigmas, stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory practices against those who are different from the identities constructed as “us/someone like us” all play a role in the formation of hate speech. Generally speaking, hate speech can be examined under six main titles. These are;

  • Political Hate Speech :
    Hate speech targeting a certain political opinion and its followers. It may sometimes target an ideology as a whole, only one or a few political parties or even smaller groups.
  • Hate speech against women :
    Basically the use of sexist terms. Such humiliating terms construct a discursive practice through which women are subordinated.
  • Hate speech against foreigners and immigrants:
    May target foreigners, immigrants and/or ethnical groups. Generally caused by economic reasons, it is frequently observed in Turkey and in the world. Besides, this type of hate speech is also fed by racism. It positions different ethnic groups as the source of fear and concern and marks them as “enemies”.
  • Sexual-identity based hate speech:
    Hate speech targeting non-heterosexual people. Basically targeting gay, lesbians, bisexuals, travesties and transsexuals, it marks such sexual identities as “perverted” and “disgusting”.
  • Religious belief and sect based hate speech:
    Hate speech targeting different religious and sectarian identifications. It is frequently observed in the world and across the globe. In Turkey, it targets religions other than Islam and all sects, primarily Alevism apart from Sunni Islam.
  • Hate speech against disabled people and diverse diseases:
    Hate speech targeting physically or mentally disabled people or people suffering from certain diseases. It is increasingly observed in Turkey. It may both result from social and/or economic reasons and occur totally independently.

As it can be seen, not only the use of lingual practices and but also the milieu where such practices are popularised are important for hate speech. Today, the ways hate speech is diffused are closely correlated with the place of social media in daily life.  As İlden Dirini, who has studied on the hate speech produced in readers’ comments on online news portals, underlined, new media are the milieu where people create an interactive public space and hate speech is incarnated and circulated.(Dirini, 2010). In Turkey, especially Facebook wall and Twitter messages are intensively used by users as a means of spreading hate speech.

Hate speech takes different forms in different new media. For example, the hate speech produced on online news portals and social networks may be related to the agenda. Particularly, aggressive and abettor hate speech like “The best Kurd is a dead one” targeting Kurdish people has been commonly used and taken for granted both in traditional media and on Facebook walls since July 2011. Hate speech produced on video sharing networks may be related to the agenda considering how and when it is produced. However, it is also independent from the agenda as it is circulated at different times. Hate speech circulated through video sharing networks continue to exist and spread hatred as the videos with such a content are copied by different users of the global network. The hate speech produced in digital games and game milieus, on the other hand, is completely based on generalizations and prejudices targeting “others” (who may be Arabs, Muslims, Chinese, women, homosexuals, etc) and most of the time it is not correlated with the agenda.

The sensitivity of the Turkish public opinion about hate speech has been on the rise for past few years. Various organizations (including NGOs) [6 ]working particularly on this subject invite the government to issue a regulation about hate crimes as soon as possible.  Yet, most of the works cover traditional media. However, today the comments made on Twitter, a micro blog application used by millions of people, Facebook and similar social networks as well as the hate speech on Youtube, digital games, online news portals, hatred websites and IRCs must also be meticulously analysed and studied (Toprak vd., 2009 ve Çomu, 2010).

As is known, Facebook, Twitter and/or digital game users contribute to the hate speech produced by their friends and even takes it for granted. When taken for granted, hate speech may help the organization of hate crimes. All of the hate speeches mentioned above and hate crimes both prove the influence and power of the Internet in the spread of hate speech.  At this point we must ask what we need to do when faced with such inconsiderateness and the fact that hate speech is now on the street and even encouraged to turn into “hate crime”. What should we do against hate speech which has permeated into the minds of and internalised by these “elite and lucky” citizens with Internet access and been naturally reflected on their messages on the Internet?

First of all, we need to raise users’ awareness about hate speech popularised and circulated on the Internet and use new media to produce peaceful discourse and establish peaceful organizations.  We may perhaps “remove” news portals, readers’ comments, websites, Facebook groups and Twitter messages diffusing hate speech, targeting those who are different and promoting hate crimes from new media through “complain and remove” method. We may even make them inaccessible through filters! In the meantime, let us point out the hypocrisy of the State. None of the tweets on Twitter that were shared throughout the day on January 19th, 2012 and diffused hate speech were removed bv ICT, TIB or Public Prosecutors in charge of informatics…They issued no warning against these tweets, either. This indicates that “Safe Internet Filtering” application of ICTA and TIB does not aim to protect families and children from hate speech; on the contrary, it tolerates the circulation of aggressive, humiliating and angry words targeting various citizens; within the framework of the political power’s project “ideal/preferred family and child design” …. (Binark, 2011)…

Therefore, the real and main problem is that we are and will be faced with such discriminatory and intolerant mindset. Thus, we should fight against discrimination right now and here. All citizens in Turkey need to be together with, learn more about and understand those they have “otherized”. They need the language of peace more today. And also they need to multiply and spread the positive practices on the Internet that free individuals, democratize societies and boost the culture of living together…

If we ask ourselves what “we can do at this point”, here are some possible answers:

  • To boost the demands to be actively engaged against hate speech through users’ agreements
  • To give trainings to new media editors in order to raise their awareness about hate speech
  • To develop hate speech monitoring and reporting mechanisms on new media
  • To give trainings to new media users so that they can gain awareness about this issue and develop Critical New Media Literacy within this framework
  • To ensure that the contents and groups covering hate speech can be removed through “complain” mechanism
  • To create and promote positive examples
  • To promote quality content production
  • To create public opinion pressure so that the Convention on Cyber Crime and its Additional Protocol issued based on the fact that “racism is not an opinion, but a crime” as mentioned in 1543 Recommendation “Racism and Xenophobia in Cyberspace” (2001) are signed
  • To develop ethical principles for online journalism
  • To make sure that the reasons for and conditions of hate speech are understood.  To search for the root causes of /reasons for and sources of hate speech circulated on new media based on political, cultural and social policies

As Rakel Dink stated “the mind-set that turns an innocent baby into a murderer” is developed and improved in this world”; cyberspace is one of its ideological fighting tools. That’s why we need to fight against hate speech spread in cyberspace and perceived and received as “so-called freedom of expression” altogether, right here and now.

Binark, M. (2011), “Türkiye’de Sağ Politikaların Üç Takıntısı üzerinden İnternet Sansürünü Okumak”, Evrensel Kültür, Volume: 236, August, 68-73. ISSN: 1302-1478-9-7

Dirini, İ. (2010), Yeni Medyada Nefret Söylemi, (edited by) T. Çomu, İstanbul: Kalkedon Yayınları

Toprak, A., A. Yıldırım, E. Aygül, M. Binark, S. Börekçi and T. Çomu (2009), Toplumsal Paylaşım Ağı Facebook: “görülüyorum öyleyse varım!”, İstanbul: Kalkedon Yayınları”

* updated from the article titled “Nefret Söyleminin Nefret Suçuna Evrilmesi” and prepared based on the latest message flow on social networks on January 19th, 2012” (

[1] For example, through a scan, we can clearly see the hate speech on Twitter targeting the citizens/Hrant’s friends commemorating the 5th year of Dink’s murder and protesting against the verdict of İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court on January 18th, which contradicts with justice and conscience.!/search/hrant and!/search/ermeni (The searches on Twitter might vary depending on the time of the search. For a few selected samples, click.)

It was observed as a result of these searches that words and visuals praising Hrant’s murderers and their accomplices are used and the mind-set and perception normalising hate speech against different ethnical identities, sects and sexual orientations are thus developed.

[2] It should be noted that it is against Facebook’s use of terms to upload and share/circulate contents producing hate speech. See. (Article 3.7) and (Article 3.B.5)

[3] See.

[4] See.

[5] Please read Hatice Bakanlar’s article titled “Dink davasının düşündürdükleri”:

[6] For example, International Hrant Dink Foundation, Foundation for Social Transformation, Human Rights Agenda Association, etc.


One Response to Using Social Media for Hate Speech is not Freedom of Expression!

  1. […] hate speech and its types on social networks in Turkey, please see:… 5. Regarding this, Siva Vaidhyanathan concludes that “we are not Google’s customers:we are its […]

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