Holocaust museum publishes manual

WASHINGTON (RNS) In hopes of making the world a safer place, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has released a guide to tackling dangerous speech, written by a young American who helped quell the intertribal conflict in Kenya during its 2013 elections.

“Defusing Hate: A Strategic Communication Guide to Countering Dangerous Speech” does not exactly reveal how to quell inflammatory speech. The nature and context of discourse that can lead to violence varies too widely across the world for any particular prescription to make sense.

But the 160-page guide, a one-of-a-kind effort, empowers local leaders to understand the environment that gives rise to this talk and come up with plans to defuse it before it inspires its audience to take it. arms. .

Rachel Hilary Brown, author of a new guide to tackling speech that can lead to violence, speaks as it is released on June 27 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. RNS Photo by Lauren Markoe

“Unfortunately, I think this guide is more relevant than it was when we started this project,” said Rachel Hilary Brown, its author. She started working there two years ago, as a member of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, which published the guide on Monday, June 27.

The nonprofit Brown co-founded in Kenya when she was 22 – Sisi ni Amani, or “We are peace” in Swahili – ran a 2013 campaign that ran text messages affirming peace to counter provocative rumors spread by cellphones in the country. In the 2007-2008 electoral cycle, more than 1,000 Kenyans died after allegations that the vote was rigged.

Sisi ni Amani’s approach has also worked in land disputes. The group wrote a text to the armed men ready to fight: “Let us solve all border problems peacefully, because only with peace can we find lasting solutions.” Let’s keep the peace in Mulot. The message gave potential fighters in the area northeast of Nairobi a break, and they took their disagreement to a local pastor to arbitrate.

Brown and the Holocaust Museum Hope to “Defuse Hate”, which is available for free in line, will help local activists elsewhere design campaigns that resonate with carefully targeted audiences. The book offers strategies for defining that audience, crafting a message, choosing how to deliver it, and avoiding common pitfalls, such as trying to debate providers of dangerous speech.

The guide advises: “Present a grievance as a socio-economic issue rather than an ethnic or religious issue”.

Annie Bird of the State Department’s Office of Conflict and Stabilization Operations said the guide has been used to train foreign service officers before and should be trusted as the department begins spending new ones. funds allocated to the prevention of atrocities.

“Now we have a solid guide to help us understand how to design a program,” she told Brown when launching the guide. “I would love to see us pilot work using your guide in countries at risk.”

    Susan begs.  Photo courtesy of the American University

Professor Susan Benesch, who coined the term “dangerous speech”. Photo courtesy of the American University

The guide is based on the work of American University professor Susan Benesch, who coined the term “dangerous speech” to refer to speech that increases the risk of violence for a group of people.

Brown also uses the term “dangerous speech” as opposed to “hate speech”. As Benesch argued, hate speech isn’t always dangerous – someone shouting ethnic slurs within earshot, for example, is guilty of hate speech but probably not dangerous speech.

Benesch says tackling dangerous speech is a new area and the work is hard. The emotions that underlie dangerous speech tend to be visceral, and once the dangerous speech is broadcast, its damage is often done. The Internet and social media facilitate the dissemination of such rhetoric, and the possibility of anonymity emboldens offenders.

So while effective examples of tackling dangerous speech online are few and far between, they are remarkable, said Benesch, who just completed a two-year study on the phenomenon.

She gives the example of the response to a slew of racist tweets in 2014 denigrating the new Miss America, who was Indo-American and wrongly assumed to be Muslim and Arab. “More like #MissTerrorist,” one tweet read. But Twitter users confronted the racist tweeters online, causing some of those who made the original comments to apologize and delete what they had written.

Among the preliminary conclusions of Benesch’s study: Trying to eliminate dangerous speech is rarely the best strategy.

“Instead of trying to censor all this talk, which would be difficult or impossible, we are trying to vaccinate people against it, to make them less sensitive,” Benesch said.

But she also warns against the limits of her domain.

“Counter-narrative can perhaps be a useful tool, but it is certainly not the solution in itself,” she said.

“The way parents raise their children must be the first. “