This trainers guide should enable experienced teachers, trainers and educators to run online roleplays against online hate. It was designed specifically to run roleplays with the LOVE-Storm Online Training Room, but the guide applies to all kind of Online Roleplays against Online Hate.
Why train against online hate?
Hate speech is language or images used to attack or devalue people. People are targeted because they belong to certain marginalized groups. They face discrimination – being devalued because they belong to this group. Comments can be racist, sexist, anti-semitic, ableist and many other forms of discrimination. People are not targeted as an individual, but because they are identified as a member of such a group: People of Colour, women, Jews, and disabled persons. Online hate describes all other forms of hateful communication that takes place in online spaces.
Imagine you walk down the street of your town and you see a person you’ve never met being bullied, how would you react? Would you come for the rescue, ignore the sight and pretend you’ve never been there, pass by or try to call for help and try to mitigate the conflict? In the era of digital technologies, the internet and social media are our new streets – where people meet, talk, and enjoy their time, but also sow hatred and spread violence.
Knowing how to react, protect ourselves and our communities and mitigate conflict, when we see violence on the internet is one of the crucial skills to foster in a world that never ceases to interact. The LOVE-Storm platform has been developed so that you can use it to train yourself and your pupils to respond to online hatred calmly and decisively. The training will help you gain the necessary skills and courage to protect yourself and help victims of hate speech by teaching you through role play experience how to engage the public, and the bystanders, and decrease the influence of aggressors.
Hate speech targets individuals of discriminated groups. Through Hate Speech comments they are being attacked or devalued on the basis of their identity. Discrimination describes systematic devaluation – the adverse effects can be felt by individuals on a daily basis.
Being confronted with hate speech can have severe psychological consequences: increased stress, negative self-esteem, anxiety, depression, to suicidal thoughts.
The reactions of people who are confronted with hate speech online can be quite different. This also depends on the kind of hate speech they see. If they belong to the marginalized group that is targeted by hate speech comments, the emotional reaction can be much more intense. This is because likely they have many memories of experiencing this form of discrimination. Reactions can vary from one situation to another. They can include: feeling overwhelmed, helpless, frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, and also amused. Humour can serve as a coping mechanism to deal with hate speech.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of a democratic society. It ensures that people can voice their opinion freely. Hate speech endangers this. The effect of hate speech is that the voices of marginalized groups of society are being silenced. People might not feel free to express their opinion anymore. This reduces the diversity of voices – particularly in online spaces. In some countries, the use of discriminatory language is even prohibited by law. The aim is to ensure that all people have equal human rights.
Learning through roleplay
Roleplay lets you experience being someone else for a moment. In the context of the platform, roleplay helps you better understand the aggressor, victim, and other participants of an online conversation by putting yourself in their role.
We’ve all been there. An hour-long lecture with 20 PowerPoint slides where you doze off after the 7th slide. When you leave the lecture after the long sit, you have an idea about what’s been talked about, but you haven’t learned anything yet. You do the work at home when you practice the knowledge. To learn, you must directly engage with the topic, have the experience to draw learning from, and then apply your learning in the next action you are going to take. Learning can only be observed as a change in behavior. It takes practice. That’s why Lovestorm uses roleplay as a learning method. Roleplay is a fun way to use your freshly acquired knowledge and skills in real-time and test and enhance your ability as you play. During the roleplay, you must actively engage, think about the situation within the online chat environment, apply what you have learned, and see for yourself what works and what does not. After the roleplay, you will have the experience to draw conclusions during the reflection session.
Lovestorm platform uses roleplays as an educational method to let you directly experience a situation in an online environment in which you would need to use your communication skills to quell the hatred, call the bystanders for action, protect the victim and reduce the influence of the aggressor within a safe and controlled environment. Roleplays let you train your communication muscles and civic courage to be prepared for a real-life situation.
Hate speech can have strong emotional impacts on people who experience it. This is because people who face discrimination in our society experience this on a daily basis. In the online training setting, the facilitator does not always see how the training affects people. The challenge is therefore to pay attention to the group during the training, as well as to the individuals. Participants who feel triggered (experiencing an overwhelming emotional response) do not always share that they feel unwell. It is important to create an environment in which participants feel safe. After the training, participants should be aware of additional support structures.
Role plays provide a first-hand experience of reacting to hate speech. This includes the emotional response of participants. While this can feel empowering for some, others might feel triggered (experiencing an overwhelming emotional reaction). During the role-play, hate speech content is reproduced, as part of the experience. For some participants, this means that they are confronted with hurtful language that they might have seen many times before. This can lead to emotional destabilization (experiencing overwhelming feelings) which can have a negative impact or serious consequences even sometime after the training.
Training on hate speech should be thought-provoking and feel empowering. They should provide an interesting experience for participants. Hate speech can be an emotionally intense subject for some people. It is therefore important to ensure (as best possible) that every participant leaves the training in the same or a better emotional state than they arrived in. Many people do not realize how much it can affect them to read hate speech comments. As a facilitator, you can prepare them for this by mentioning it several times throughout the training. This helps many participants, as they can adjust their expectations of the training and are then emotionally prepared for any feelings that come up.
Also, be aware of your own well-being during and after the training. If a certain topic causes a strong emotional reaction for you, please seek support for yourself immediately.
There are quite a few different role-play scenarios that you can choose from. We strongly recommend only choosing the ones that you understand well. Each scenario has one or more forms of discrimination as a topic. Choose only those topics that you already have some knowledge on. If you know a lot about sexism, choose the scenario accordingly. If you are not familiar with ableism, we advise you not to choose a scenario that covers that. It is not possible to create a safe environment for participants if you are not familiar with the topic.
Have you ever reached out to a group chat for help, but to no avail? People have seen your message asking for the homework or the phone number you needed to call, but no one responded. This could be an example of the bystander effect. It says that the more people witness a stranger in peril, the less likely any individual is to come to their aid. We can apply this logic also to the online environment in case of a person is attacked by aggressors who use hate speech to denounce and humiliate the victim in the public discussion.
How to counter the bystander effect: Build empathy by considering what it may feel like being in the position of the person being targeted. Be aware of situations that may require intervention. When you notice a problem, don’t wait for others to help. Be the one who takes charge. Keep in mind that everyone thinks someone else will help in a group setting. Let’s assume nobody will help and take personal responsibility for intervening.
The LOVE-Storm approach
At LOVE-Storm we focus on the three main groups of the interaction of online hate.
Unlike some other approaches, the focus here is first directed at the person being attacked. There are different ways to support them: reaching out to them via private message to ask if they need anything, to support their original message, asking a question about the topic they posted about.
The bystanders are often forgotten in interactions of online hate. Including them in the interaction can help change the dynamic. Most people initially do not react to discussions but are observing them instead. By addressing them directly, they can be motivated to participate. And even if this is not the case, posting comments to counter hate speech will be noticed by bystanders. It helps oppose hateful narratives.
The attackers are usually quite visible in interactions of online hate. Nevertheless, in this approach, they are addressed last in dealing with the hate dynamic. This gives more space to others who otherwise could be made invisible. Strategies to deal with attackers are to ask them questions to discuss the content of their hateful comments or to set a boundary by countering their narratives. Sometimes it can also be effective to use humor, making sure it is not degrading. And in other cases simply ignoring the haters can be a good way to not give them further attention.
A technique for intervening: 5D (Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, Direct)
If direct intervention is difficult, a distraction can momentarily diffuse the situation. Creating some kind of diversion can create an opportunity to help change the momentum or direction of escalation.
Don’t feel you have to act alone. If you feel like you can’t handle the situation by yourself, enlist help from official authorities such as the police, security, or a store supervisor.
It can be really helpful to record an incident as it happens to someone. But there are a number of things to keep in mind when safely and responsibly documenting harassment. Assess your safety before you go ahead and start recording, and ALWAYS ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with the recording. Publicizing another person’s traumatic experience without their consent is no way to be an effective and helpful bystander.
Some types of harassment happen in passing or very quickly, in which case you might have to wait until the situation is over to speak to the person who was targeted. It’s always good practice to ask them if they’re OK and if there’s any way you can support them.
Perhaps you witness a situation between a friend and another person that looks like it may escalate, so you step in and pull your friend out of the situation. When safe, being direct is the most immediate way to intervene in a situation to prevent it from turning into a crisis.