Silence Hate: tackling hate speech in Poland

“Changing words can change the world”, how the Silence Hate project is battling hate speech against immigrants and refugees in Poland.

Migration is a hot topic in media around the world. Whether it is Syrian refugees fleeing war towards Europe or Latin American immigrants being separated from their families in the Mexico-US border, newspapers, TV channels and websites in every country dedicate a lot of time and space to those seeking a new home in another country.

With so much talk about migration issues, many people fall into stereotypes, misinformation and even hate speech, promoting discrimination or even violence towards others. The project ‘Silence Hate’, started in 2018, aims to stop this, educating journalists, teachers and youth on how to fight against racist discourse and hate speech.

According to Katarzyna Salejko, Human Rights Education and Activism Manager in Amnesty International Poland, the project’s main goal is to “combat and prevent online hate speech against migrants and refugees by developing new and creative counter-narratives”. The most effective way to do this, she says, is through “education and debate”.

Discussion during a training of the Silence Hate Project © Zbigniew Bujak
Discussion during a training of the Silence Hate Project © Zbigniew Bujak

The project has several goals. Firstly, it looks to generate debate with journalists, media activists and bloggers, to engage in conversation with them and exchange best practises. Polish journalists worked with Amnesty International activists and educators to dissect how national and international media talks about migration issues to come up with counter-narratives and, particularly, alternative narratives.

Jola Ronowska, a trainer in Silence Hate workshops, explains that while counter-narratives expose hate speech and its prejudices, addressing the discrimination head-on, alternative narratives focus away from hate speech, shedding a light instead on giving voice to those who are usually silenced, like minorities. Ronowska appreciates the power of alternative narratives, sharing that with “counter-narration you somehow make hate speech more powerful because you’re still focused on it”.

Karolina Domagalska, a journalist who participated in one of the workshops, describes the training as “inspiring”: “It showed me alternative ways to talk about migration, not the one-directional mainstream media type, but the one that includes the voices of migrants and is built on trust and partnership”. Domagalska was inspired to put Polish children in contact with refugee children in refugee camps, allowing them “to start a conversation with each other”. Her goal is to “build empathy, to dismantle traditional journalist narratives and to build bridges of understanding”.

The goal, says Salejko, is to “bring together a wide network of creative minds to generate content for building a new narrative on migration”.

One of the posters made during a Silence Hate workshop © Zbigniew Bujak
One of the posters made during a Silence Hate workshop © Zbigniew Bujak

Another side of the Silence Hate project focuses on educational settings. According to Salejko, it aims to “provide teachers, educators, activists and young people with tools of analysis and operational tools to recognize and combat online hate speech”. This goal, pursued through “media literacy and intercultural dialogue”, has been the focus of workshops for both school students, journalism students and teachers.

Michał Klopocki, coordinator of the Silence Hate project in Poland, adds that it is key to “help young people recognise hate speech and its impact on individuals and groups”, as well as “encouraging them to act both on an individual and collective level”.

Finally, the goal of the Silence Hate project is also to “raise awareness in young people and the general public about the risks of the diffusion of racist discourse on the web and the importance to react to hate speech”, says Salejko. This goal, which is at the same time embodied in the other two, also aims to multiply its effect, by training and inspiring participants to create their own workshops in their communities and show others the dangers of hate speech.

Some young participants from Bydgoszcz, in northern Poland, were really inspired by the workshops, creating a short film to create awareness about migration issues. Meanwhile, the project continues, inspiring participants all over Poland to take action against hate speech and discrimination.