Dozens of far-right social media accounts are operated from Ireland, and some have as many as 40,000 followers. They spread misinformation and harass specific groups of people.
Social media facilitates the rapid spread of ideas and “hate speech is no exception”, says Ireland’s Hate Track report.
Hate Track: Tracking And Monitoring Racist Speech Online, published late last year, is a joint report between DCU, the Irish Research Council, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
The 12-month project tracked 6,000 incidents of “racially-loaded, toxic speech” by automatically monitoring messages posted to social media.
Language that sought to dehumanise groups of people was common, as were the spread of “race science myths”.
The research also referred to “coded racism”.
Using seemingly plausible arguments online, users said things such as “it’s not racism thats going on in Ireland, it’s survival of the fittest”. People who would then call out this rhetoric as racist would be jumped on, and called “over-sensitive”, or accused of being racist against white people.
This kind of “toxic” speech, which seeks to flip or reclaim victimhood, is part of the far-right ideology that is making political gains in the US and Europe.
Mary Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief of openDemocracy, said far-right leaders frequently attack topics such as “gender ideology”, saying it discriminates against men, especially domestic abuse legislation.
“These attacks come particularly from prime minister Victor Orban, in Hungary, and Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, who have aligned with religious conservatives globally, but also from the far-right Vox party in Spain, which has vowed to roll back laws on domestic abuse, and from politicians from Poland’s Law and Justice Party, who have pushed limits on contraception and abortion,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
In the Irish Hate Track report, one of the key findings was the shared language between groups here and abroad.
“There are clear patterns of shared language between international and Irish groups, including the adoption of racist ideologies produced in the context of the United States and the European identitarian movement,” reads the report.
The report also found that racist comments were peppered with hate targeted at other groups.
It found: “Expressions of racism online are punctuated with misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic attacks directly targeting women and members of the LGBT community.”
Of the hate speech, recurrent themes were found in the Irish digital sphere. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee debate would always revolve around “access to welfare and housing”, “moral deservedness”, and the “good versus bad immigrant trope”.
Anti-Muslim hate speech contained several themes: Muslim men painted as sexually deviant, terrorism, and a clash of civilisations.
For Traveller and Roma people, the language was dehumanising and they were targeted as undeserving and “uncivilised”, as thugs and criminals.
There were also incidences of attacks on second-generation Irish people, with debates centring around “population replacement”.
Hate speech in the Irish digital space is rarely reported or called out. There is a tendency to under-report online racist speech here.
There are four barriers to people reporting it: Freedom of speech/expression as an absolute right; racist speech is only uttered by people who are not worth dealing with; reporting is pointless because there is so much racist speech online; and a ‘bystander’ effect or disavowal of responsibility, with some respondents feeling that it was not their job to report anything.
While users of ‘toxic’ and racist speech often run their own focused social media pages, the Facebook pages of news outlets played important roles in the spread of their ideologies, according to Hate Track.
The Facebook pages were used to “channel racially-loaded toxic content”.
Also discovered was the role of ‘trigger topics’, such as terrorist attacks, direct provision, refugees, and Islam. News articles about Muslims, Roma, and Travellers appear to elicit dehumanising racism, irrespective of the article’s context.
“Sensationalist headlines” were also found to attract a large volume of hateful comments.