Terrorism and Cyber Hate – Dr Elaine Brown CCCU

A guest blog from Dr Elaine Brown – Senior Lecturer Canterbury Christ Church University 

Another terrorist attack, which stole the lives of people who had everything to live for. Teresa May has argued we have entered a ‘dark time’ for cybercrime; and pledged priority to addressing this in a statement to the nation yesterday. The harrowing message of Chrissy Archibald’s parents (the first named victim), asks that we sort our society out by volunteering, doing good and helping those less fortunate than ourselves #chrissysentme

Cyberbullying is difficult to define and something typically associated with safeguarding children and protecting the vulnerable. However, today online we are exposed to comments which illustrate bigotry, xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination consistently. No doubt, you will have read statements such as “fake Britain” or “go back home” communicated via social media. Perhaps, friends of yours are engaging. What did you do, if anything, to challenge this narrative?

Absence of by-stander intervention (notably a criticism frequently levelled at members of British Muslim communities in relation to terror prevention efforts), is something which should not go overlooked. We all have it in us to help others, but many people choose to be passive by-standers. The by-stander effect is a phenomena which causes individuals not to intervene in emergency situations. A repeated observation is that the more people who are present, the less likely it is one of them will intervene. In an online world, the number of people anonymously observing is unlimited as is the diffusion of responsibility it would seem.

This could be because of conformity (those who read the post agreed, but choose not to express this explicitly), or compliance (people did not agree, but choose not to express it). This question may help us to better understand the escalating violence we see at a global level; are you a by-stander? And if so are you conforming or complying?

Compliance may be justified by different reasons, not least is concern for the repercussion of violence. The recent terror act in the USA where three men had their throats slit on public transport as they defended the innocent is a harsh reminder of this risk. Alternatively, it could be acceptance of the expression ‘never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and bet you with experience’. Or maybe, ‘poise and stoicism’. Strikingly, perhaps people have not even considered their role as a by-stander.

‘The only thing evil men need to triumph is for good men to do nothing’ (for those of biblical persuasion, the semantics are firmly rooted, James 4:17, ESV: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”). The absence of condemnation on hate speech online is deafening, something we implore others to consider.

Should we ignore what in the physical would could be considered criminal attitudes and legitimise it with reifying rhetoric (i.e., ‘trolling’)? I do not believe cyber hate should be ‘normalised’ we all must do more to address all narratives of hate, wherever we see it.

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