Research: The impact of hate speech on public decision-making

Hate speech is a real problem for Finnish decision-makers.

Cordi researcher Reeta Pöyhtäri, together with Aleksi Knuutila, Heidi Kosonen, Tuija Saresma and Paula Haara, has in September 2019 co-authored a study Viha vallassa: Vihapuheen vaikutukset yhteiskunnalliseen päätöksentekoon (The impact of hate speech on public decision-making). The study is published by the Prime Minister’s Office, in the series Publications of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities (2019: 57).

The research examined the impact of hate speech on public decision-making processes as well as its scale and quality. The research is based on 14 semi-structured interviews, a database of discussions from Twitter and a survey sent to Finnish councils and the parliament.

According to the survey experience of hate speech is widespread: A third of municipal decision-makers had been targeted by hate speech because of their work. Two-thirds of respondents believed that the amount of hate speech had increased in the past few years. Hate speech can result from impulsive behavior, but can also be used deliberately as a means of political pressuring, to silence individual people or a political view. Increasingly adversarial relations between political groups are one reason for the increase in hate speech.

The research suggests that hate speech reduces the political participation of its victims. Of the municipal decision-makers that had been targeted by hate speech, 28 % said their motivation to participate in decision-making had decreased. Half of the respondents said that their experiences of hate speech reduced their trust in strangers.

Current policies for preventing hate speech and supporting its victims are insufficient. Especially candidates during elections as well as municipal councilors are often without support when targeted with hate speech. The research suggests trying out other approaches to preventing hate speech in addition to legal measures. We propose more leadership and clear statements again hate speech from decision-makers, a clarification on the boundaries of acceptable speech in politics and improved accountability of social media platforms.

More about the research and other commentaries on hate speech in Haaste publication (in Finnish).

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