A family guide to understanding online racism
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Racism is a problem encountered by people in many countries across the world – and frequently online. It is an act of discrimination, for example hateful behaviour, committed against someone owing to their ethnicity or origin in another country. Sometimes the colour of their skin, accent or way of life may be a factor.
Race is a ‘protected characteristic’ – an aspect of a person’s identity protected under law alongside age, religion/belief, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. Depending on the context, racist behaviour (both online and offline) may be considered a hate crime.
What is a hate crime?
A hate crime is any criminal behaviour that appears to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice, or includes words or behaviour that show hostility, based on a person’s perceived:
- sexual orientation
- transgender identity
A hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property. The perpetrator could be someone unknown, or they could be a friend.
This guide will help you and your family understand how online racism occurs and what to do if you encounter it.
According to the Show Us You Care research report from Race Alliance Wales, around 12% of school children in Wales are from minority ethnic backgrounds and are more vulnerable to racism and racist bullying both online and offline.
How and where does racism occur online?
Racist behaviour can take place anywhere online – from social media platforms and online gaming chat to YouTube channels, message boards and comment sections. Racist content is often public, created and posted with the aim of affecting as many people as possible. High-profile individuals such as sportspeople, celebrities and politicians are often targeted because of their race or skin colour.
Extremist groups may use the internet as a tool to recruit individuals to their organisations, or to discuss a shared hatred for those who are different to them. They often use private message boards or messaging apps to do this. Racist content online may not always be overtly hateful; it can also be implicit or subtle.
What are the motivations behind online racism?
Racist behaviour online is often born out of fear of people who are different. This may be due to ignorance, or a person’s belief that their race is superior or ‘normal’ and that anyone different to them is inferior.
People creating and sharing racist content online may wish to target an individual or all members of a particular group. There are several reasons why people may share controversial views online. They may see it as a ‘game’ or want to pick a fight, as hateful content can often evoke strong emotions in those who experience it. Others may find racist content funny, because they do not appreciate the impact their abuse can have on those they target.
What are the risks around online racism?
Racist abuse uses dehumanising words or images to make a person or group sound inferior to others in society. Being the target or victim of this behaviour can be highly traumatising, may have an impact on physical or mental health (increasing worries or anxiousness), confidence and self-worth. It can also lead to feelings of helplessness. Depending on the context, online racist abuse can be considered a hate crime and behaviour that incites violence offline can also put people’s safety at risk.
How can I talk to my child about online racism?
Even if you feel that your child or your family are not at risk of being targeted by racism, it is important to help your child understand that discrimination exists online and offline, and that this behaviour is not acceptable. It may not be suitable to show your child examples of online racism, but you can empower them by explaining what they can do if they ever encounter behaviour online where they feel someone is being discriminated against or treated badly. These are the key things they can do.
- Report the user or content to the website/service where it occurred. Most websites have rules or community standards that forbid abusive or racist behaviour.
- Respond carefully – telling someone they are wrong can often make the situation worse.
- Communicate positively – sending positive messages of support to the victim can lessen the impact of racist content or abuse.
- Block and mute users that target them.
- Seek help from a trusted adult.
Where can I get help and support?
There’s lots of support and guidance available to help you and your family deal with online racism.
You can report hate crimes via True Vision to the police, or to Victim Support. Victim Support provide independent, confidential help, advice and support to victims and witnesses of hate crimes in Wales. Call 0300 3031 982 or visit the Victim Support website. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Reporting online racism and hate speech whenever you see it is important, but it doesn’t always mean that content will be removed. If you have reported something online that you feel should be removed but the website/service hasn’t taken action, you can visit Report Harmful Content. Its advice section has up-to-date information on community standards and direct links to the correct reporting facilities for different websites and platforms.
Remind your child that they can also call Meic, which offers free information, advocacy and advice for children and young people in Wales up to the age of 25. Call Meic for free on 080880 23456, text on 84001 or send instant messages at www.meic.cymru. The service is open from 8am to midnight, 7 days a week.
More advice and information for supporting your child to tackle online hate can be found on Internet Matters.