Online abuse, far-right propaganda and conspiracy theories have recently increased dramatically in the CEE region. Social media are acting as a powerful amplifier for hate speech and myth dissemination. Although governments, international organisations and companies such as Facebook are actively attempting to reduce online abuse through laws and regulations, they are far from successful. As a result a number of small initiatives have decided to combat hate speech, disinformation and online extremism by adopting a bottom-up approach. These initiatives are mostly run by young people and some of them are very efficient and have great public resonance.
A recent study demonstrated that 59 per cent of all links shared on social networks are not actually clicked on, but the number of shares and comments on them is vast. This implies that most reactions are based solely on the headline and/or an accompanying picture, rather than actual reading of the article. Discussions under posts tend to include various dimensions of hate – from racist agitation to celebrating reports of attacks on refugees to the abuse of individuals. To counter the online abuse expressed in Facebook comment sections, a Facebook group called #somtu https://www.facebook.com/groups/somtu/ was established. It was inspired by the Swedish initiative #jagärhär. #somtu is a discussion support group that counterbalances hate speech and conspiracy theories on the internet. Its members firstly share links to posts where online abuse is present and subsequently start commenting there. The point is not to become aggressive or offensive but to calmly demonstrate a different opinion. Rather than staying silent and quietly reading comments full of hate speech, the members of the initiative decide to speak up, showing the more humane side of the issue. The main advantage of this voluntary activity is that the members support each other’s comments (which are easily identified thanks to the hashtag #somtu), therefore polite and reasonable comments become more visible and hateful speech becomes less visible. Subsequently, this encourages others to contribute with ‘positive’ comments which results in these positive comments outweighing the presence of hate speech.
In addition to the growing trend of online hate speech, it has become popular to criticise mainstream media outlets. As a result, an increasingly large proportion of the public are turning to alternative narratives. A recent study on the subject demonstrated that ‘alternative media’ sites tend to employ ‘intentional use of disinformation tactics’ to weaken the public and make it easier for them to be controlled. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that we are able to distinguish between conspiracy websites and those providing us with the truth and facts. With this goal in mind, the initiative www.konspiratori.sk publishes an online list of conspiracy websites and websites with deceptive and/or misleading content. Their intention is to help companies not to advertise on these pages. Another initiative helping the public to distinguish between facts and alternative narratives has created an application at https://www.websupport.sk/bullshit-detector to identify controversial content. Moreover, student projects like www.truefighters.sk and the Facebook group https://bezpointy.sk/ are striving to combat disinformation, myths and conspiracy theories. Another interesting initiative is an anti-fascist website created and maintained by Marek Mach, a 15-year-old student at a secondary school https://mladiprotifasizmu.sk/o-projekte/. The real impact of such initiatives can only be assessed but it is surely nothing but positive that young people are at least trying to fight extremism, ‘alternative facts’ and abuse in online space.