How to protect your child against hate speech on the Internet

It’s important as parents that we help our children recognise and reject racist, sexist, homophobic, and religion-based hate content.

 Online hate speech is a serious issue that all parents should be addressing with their children.

It’s a fact: Hate speech is all over the internet.

Fuelled by trolls, extremists, or false information, kids who play on the internet – whether Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or YouTube encounter some of the vilest and offensive words and images that can be expressed in the comments section of videos, memes in their feed, or group chats.

The line between what’s OK and what’s absolutely unacceptable is still very much up for debate in the digital age. And when you think about it, today’s kids are guinea pigs for the giant social experiment of free and open public speech.

Hate speech and the internet

Firstly, it’s important for parents to acknowledge that the internet didn’t create hate speech. The Internet (and specifically social media) simply provides a place for people to express themselves. But the idea that exposure to hateful ideas is a necessary evil for the right to say whatever you wish doesn’t account for the role of the internet itself.

The online world is rife with false information, which is easily created, easily distributed, and easily believed by those who want their own hateful ideas confirmed. And remember, tech companies profit off connecting and engaging people – and nothing gets people going like inflammatory ideas. Somewhere in this mix are your kids, who are stumbling into online spaces that are confusing, scary, and shaky.

We can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on the tech companies to figure it out. Ultimately, hate speech is an area where sharing your own family’s values – around compassion and tolerance, appropriate communication, and empathy toward others – sets a stable path forward for your kids to follow even in unsettled times.

How to protect your child

Here are some topics to talk about with your children, as well as some recommendations on how to deal with hate speech:

What is hate speech?

Look up the definition of hate speech and talk about whether your kids have encountered it. It may have been just a word, or it may have been in a video or a meme. How can you tell if someone is trying to be funny or their words are intended to hurt?

How does hate speech affect people? 

How would you feel if you were a member of the group targeted by cruel language? Does it matter if you’re exposed to it a lot or a little? Are people with different social statuses – for example, a popular kid vs. a loner type – affected differently?

What’s the difference between hate speech and cyberbullying?

If someone is trying to hurt someone, or knows that they’re hurting someone, and does it repeatedly, that’s cyberbullying. When someone expresses vicious views about a group or toward an attribute of a group, that’s hate speech.

What’s your role in online hate speech?

Do you feel safe calling out the person or people using hate speech? Would it make you feel cooler to do that, or would it make you feel uncool – like you’re not part of the group? Would you block people using hate speech? Would you ignore them? Would you stand up for the person or group of people being targeted?

How far does the right to free speech go?

Is there a clear boundary between free speech and hate speech? What is it? Should people have the right to say and do whatever they want online? If people’s feelings are hurt or they’re offended, they can just go on a different site, right?

Does hate speech lead to hate crimes?

Should there be a place for people with extremist leanings to gather and share their ideas online, even if they’re offensive and threatening? Or not?

What responsibility – if any – do technology platforms have?

Should Instagram, for example, be held accountable to victims of hate crimes committed by users who posted hate content? Should they try to bring people together, either through dedicated spaces, new algorithms, or other methods?

Why are certain people attracted to hate groups?

It’s natural for tweens and teens to want to join groups, and sometimes groups devoted to hurting others make certain that kids feel more powerful. Kids who have pent-up anger or insecurity about other things in their lives may be attracted to groups that feel protective and united. Can you imagine why someone might be swayed by hate speech rhetoric?

7 Ways to deal with hate speech in a practical way

  1. Report it. Hate speech violates most sites’ terms of service. You can report people without their knowing that you’re the one who turned them in.
  2. Block it. You can block people who use hate speech, but this can be tricky socially for some kids.
  3. Don’t share it. Forwarding any form of hate speech is wrong – but it can also get you into trouble because it can be traced back to you.
  4. Call it out. If your kids feel confident enough to confront the hate speech poster without fear of attack, then they should do it.
  5. Fight it. Nurture the values of empathy and compassion in your kids. Challenge them to consider how other people feel and how they would want to be treated.
  6. Read age-appropriate news from reputable sources. Try these best news sources for kids.
  7. Learn more. Hate often stems from ignorance. Media designed for your kids’ ages can help them learn about history and people’s struggles in terms that they can understand and relate to.