Counter Hate Speech and Misinformation
Currently, Bangladesh has 103 million internet users; of those a large number is youths. Due to the surge of internet subscribers and lack of knowledge on responsible internet use, spread of hate speech and misinformation is pervasive on social media in Bangladesh. This phenomenon has lead Bangladesh in an alarming situation fostering social division, conflict, and violence.
In such context, VOICE initiates a capacity building program to foster a young group of participants including journalists, social & cultural activists, women, indigenous and minority activists, artists, filmmakers, photographers, bloggers, writers & university students through facilitating capacity and knowledge development to counter hate speech and misinformation and promote responsible use of digital space.
Bangladesh is facing huge challenges in freedom of expression, justice, rule of law, and governance, in particular. Society is completely divided and hates speech and mis/disinformation is pervasively spread, particularly, by the fundamental religious groups and divided youth groups along with political fronts. The way internet subscribers (103.85 million) skyrocketed in the last few years, the spread of hate speech and mis/dis-information rose in a similar trend. Particularly in Bangladesh there are two types of Hate Speech prevails– one is Religious hate speech and other is Political Hate Speech. Religious Hate Speech is mainly spread by Islamic clerics and Islamist groups against women of all religions. Often these hate speech escalates violence against women online and offline. Speeches of Islamic clerics spread online to millions of people due to easy access of internet mobile technology in a moment and those encourage violence against women like rape, torture, domestic violence, eve-teasing, online harassment and also often instigate violence against other religion. There are instances of fatal violence in Bangladesh in recent years against other religion which begun due to propaganda and misinformation spread online through social media. For instance, a series of attacks on Buddhist monasteries, shrines, and houses of Buddhist inhabitants in Ramu Upazila in Cox’s Bazar District took place by local mobs on the midnight past 29 September 2012. The mobs destroyed 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 50 houses in reaction to a tagging of an image depicting the desecration of a Quran on the timeline of a fake Facebook account under a Buddhist male name. An estimated 25,000 people participated in the violence directed and ravaged 20 Buddhist villages. Also, in October 2019 in Burhanuddin Upazila of Bhola district 4 people were killed and 100 were injured in the destructive clash between police and local mob over religious hate spread through a fake Facebook ID. Moreover, Political Hate Speech is spread by divided political groups and parties along with their youth and student fronts online and offline that instigate political violence and unrest.
In such situation, VOICE would like to build an online youth activist group including youth, journalists, social activists, women and minority activists, netizens, young artists, writers, bloggers, filmmakers, photographers, cultural activists and university students through a Capacity Building Program, so that this group can engage themselves to build an unique online platform through this website to counter hate speech and spread of misinformation. And, through the platform they will voluntarily write, make digital stories, make audio-visuals & films, do artworks and share them to counter hate speech and aware people online for responsible online behavior to limit the spread of mis/disinformation. That will foster tolerance, empathy, diversity of thoughts and opinions and in greater peace and harmony in the society.
Capacity building workshop on countering hate speech and misinformation
Held on 24-25 September 2021 at Padakhep Institute of Development & Management (PIDM)
Bangladesh is facing huge challenges in freedom of expression, justice, rule of law, and governance, in particular. Society is completely divided and hates speech and mis/disinformation is pervasively spread, particularly, by the fundamental religious groups and divided youth groups along with political fronts. There are instances of fatal violence in Bangladesh in recent years against other religion which begun due to propaganda news and misinformation spread online through social media.
In such situation, our objective was to build an online youth activist group including youth, journalists, social activists, women and minority activists, netizens, young artists, writers, bloggers, filmmakers, photographers, cultural activists and university students through a Capacity Building Program, so that this group can engage themselves to build a unique online platform to counter hate speech and spread of misinformation. And facilitate the youth group to actively engage them for advocating on counter hate speech and spread of misinformation online and promote responsible use of the internet.
This Capacity Building Workshop was facilitated and attended by Mr. Mainuddin Ahmed, Chief of Party Bangladesh, Counterpart International; Ms. Sharmin Khan, Legal Consultant at International Center, Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and Ms. Shameem Ara Sheuli, Program Manager, Internews Network; as special guest. This workshop was facilitated by Siam Sarower Jamil, Senior development activist; Saimum Reza Piyas, Senior Lecturer, BRAC University; Sakira Parvin, Senior Lecturer, Stamford University Bangladesh; Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Executive Director, VOICE; Zayed Siddiki, Project Coordinator, VOICE; Abtab Khan Shawon, Media Manager, VOICE; Nahian Ahmed Shah, Program Officer, VOICE.
This workshop provided hand on training on concepts of human rights, idea of hate speech and rumors, harmful effects of hate speech and misinformation, mobile journalism, social media and fact checking, social media campaign. Besides extensive surveillance and the right to security of personal information, fourth industrial revolution and democratic values these topics were discussed among young peoples in details.
This hands-on training helped them to create countering hate speech poster and infographic, case study on hate speech cases, social media contents for awareness, mobile journalisms videos and fact checking issues and how to apply them. Another focus of this training was to make understand this young changemaker about responsible use of internet. Using the Internet responsibly is to use its resources to help develop into a better person. The information you provide should build you up, encourage you, and provide a means to help others. It should not tear you down or make any kind of violence. End on this training participants were able to make some output based on topics. Output from participant would be uploaded in counterhatespeech.net website on a continues process and this website is dedicated to workshop participants output only.
Held on 28-29 August 2021 at Padakhep Institute of Development & Management (PIDM)
Bangladesh is facing huge problem in terms of freedom of expression, justice and rule of law. We have seen many incidents regarding hate speech and in the time of Covid situation misinformation has divided our society. In terms of hate speech, religious hate speech against women is a common issue which escalates offline and online violence. Bangladesh has seen many fatal violence incidents due to propaganda news and misinformation spread online through social media.
Through this workshop our objective was to build a youth activist group and enhance their capacity that they can counter hate-speech and limit spread of mis/dis-information online. And to facilitate the youth group to actively engage them for advocating on counter hate speech and spread of misinformation online and promote responsible use of the internet.
This workshop was held at Padakhep Institute of Development & Management (PIDM) held on 28th and 29th August for two days long. This capacity building workshop was facilitated by Jyoti Chattopadhyay, Senior development activist; Saimum Reza Piyas, Senior Lecturer, BRAC University; Selim Samad, Senior Journalist; Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Executive Director, VOICE; Zayed Siddiki, Project Coordinator, VOICE; Abtab Khan Shawon, Media Manager, VOICE.
The workshop provided hands-on training on hate speech, rumors, social media campaigns against misinformation, mobile journalism, content creation, and fact-checking techniques. Besides, Artificial Intelligence, big data, digital democracy, data protection were also discussed in different sessions.
This hands-on training helped them to create countering hate speech poster and infographic, case study on hate speech cases, social media contents for awareness, mobile journalisms videos and fact checking issues and how to apply them. Another focus of this training was to make understand this young changemaker about responsible use of internet. Using the Internet responsibly is to use its resources to help develop into a better person. The information you provide should build you up, encourage you, and provide a means to help others. It should not tear you down or make any kind of violence. End on this training participants were able to make some output based on topics. Outputs from participants are uploaded in counterhatespeech.net website on a continuous process and this website will be contributed by the youth activists.
Key Note Paper
Countering hate speech, misinformation, and strengthening access to information
The government of Bangladesh officially encourages open internet access and communication to promote development and make digital Bangladesh. Private commercial stakeholders have also helped in the proliferation of internet usage. In Bangladesh, like many other countries in the world, the Internet has fast become one of the key instruments to exercise the right to freedom of expression and access to information. It combines all the necessity like disseminate information, ideas, opinion, expressions and other form of writing and content generation and circulate in social media.
From the human rights perspective, any regulation of Internet ought to balance between privacy and freedom of expression. The privacy issues at stake so far have been (i) how to ensure the privacy of personal data and (ii) how to balance the privacy of communication against law enforcement’s need for interception and access to online communications. The content issues have been (i) how to control illegal content and (ii) how to control legal but potentially harmful content without unduly infringing on the right to freedom of expression. There must be a balance between freedom of expression and hate speech.
Countering Hate Speech
Hate speech: According to the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech: “the term hate speech is understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.
Hate speech towards women in Bangladesh: The Gender Equality Strategy paper of the Council of Europe elaborates on hate speech targeted at women as “Sexist hate speech takes many forms both online and offline, notably victim blaming and re-victimisation; “slut-shaming”; body-shaming; “revenge porn” (the sharing of explicit or sexual images without consent); brutal and sexualised threats of death, rape and violence; offensive comments on appearance, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender roles; but also false compliments or supposed jokes, using humour to humiliate and ridicule the target.”
In Bangladesh two forms of Hate speech takes place against women,
- Online Hate speech: The most obvious expression of online sexist hate speech in Bangladesh is the view that “certain kinds” of women invite rape upon them or deserve to be raped.
- Offline Hate speech by Islamic Clerics: In their speech in wazmahfils and other religious gatherings; demeaning and humiliating language used to reduce women into being nothing more than body parts, and the suggestion that women who do not behave in certain ways deserve to be punished somehow.
A wing of the Home Ministry issued a report listing 15 Islamic preachers allegedly advocating undemocratic religious communalism and stances detrimental to the interests of women in wazmahfils but no further and visible actions taken in this regard.
Hate speech towards other religion
A large part of the hate speech instigate on social media, hatred are spread mainly on Facebook and YouTube against religious and ethnic minority communities in Bangladesh. Often those are intentional to evict people from their land, or take political benefit. There are some such notable incidents discussed below.
Ramu incident: Damaged Buddhist artifacts and religious books are lined up at a torched Buddhist temple in Ramu, which was one of the temples and homes attacked and destroyed by a mob on September 29, 2012 after an anonymous person posted a photograph of a desecrated Quran on a local Buddhist boy’s Facebook profile. At least 12 monasteries and 30 households in Ramu, seven monasteries and 11 houses in Ukhiya and Teknaf were torched during the attack. It’s already 8 years communal harmony has returned after the brutal attacks in Ramu, no progress had been made in terms of meeting out justice to the perpetrators.
Bhola incident: At least four people were killed and more than a hundred others injured as religious zealots clashed with police in Bhola’s Borhanuddin upazila over a hate conversation spread through Facebook and messenger. The zealots torched a house and vandalised 12 more belonging to the Hindu community in Borhanuddin municipality. Seemingly designed to hurt religious sentiment, screenshots of the conversation went viral among social media users in the locality, and the person at the centre of the storm went to Borhanuddin Police Station that night and filed a general diary saying his Facebook account had been hacked.
Cricketer Shakib Al-Hasan being threatened: Cricketer Shakib Al-Hasan issued an apology after he received a death threat on social media for taking part in a celebration as part of a Kali puja in Kolkata. A youth threatened to kill the Bangladeshi all-rounder in a video post on Facebook accusing the cricketer of blasphemy. The man who had threatened the cricketer has been identified as Mohsin Talukdar from Sylhet in Bangladesh who was eventually arrested by police. Beside this through social media he was randomly getting death threats and odd comments.
Ways to counter hate speech through ethics and self-censorship
Education on media ethics: While freedom of expression is anessential human right, but the appearance of social media has created multiple platforms for the production, packaging and dissemination of hate speech. It is important to focus on media ethics, right and freedom. Journalist can play role creating and promoting a peaceful societies.
Awareness must be increased on the political, social and cultural rights of individuals and groups, including freedom of speech, and the responsibilities and social implications that come with press freedom. Journalists must be equipped with the awareness and skills to identify hate speech and to counteract hate speech messages.
Encourage conflict sensitive reporting and multicultural awareness campaigns:Conflict sensitive reporting will help dispel the ‘us’ against ‘them’ fallacy. People from every corner should have the knowledge about sensitive reporting skill. Respect toward multicultural and awareness campaigns should conduct for the diversity of culture and tradition. Everyone should practices taking natural place while writing something or without taking side.
Regulate social media: To avoid tragic consequences and maintain the press freedom we need to regulate social media and in this term ethics and media literacy is important and Press freedom can be enhanced through education on media laws and ethics.
Encourage victims and witnesses to report hate speech related crimes: Hate speech remains largely invisible simply because many victims do not know where to report the cases or even understand that they are victims of hate speech.
End impunity against hate crimes: Impunity against hate crimes can be tackled by establishing monitoring and evaluation units in newsrooms. These units would then be tasked with monitoring hate speech trends, compiling reports and bringing these to the attention of key institutions and the civil society. 
Digital Platform and Misinformation: At the Beginning Facebook was the platform to connect people across borders and distances, but now it has turned into a large disposal ground of misleading facts, rumors and wrong information especially during Covid-19 pandemic. The way of Facebook tackling this problem should be dissected and examined to understand the issue rhetorically.
Facebook’s digital inspectors is not good enough: With huge flow of data Facebook uses artificial intelligence (AI) to flag posts as spam, inappropriate, etc. and it’s enough to say, AI is not perfect. The crisis becomes even more fatalistic as Facebook’s human moderators are under lockdown and cannot work at normal efficiency. The spread of misinformation has been so widespread and the data traffic being so much that even sometime Facebook’s tech has failed. The result was the activation of a kill-switch that deleted most Covid-19 posts- factual and misleading. This created an information vacuum. Many private Facebook groups have been formed with an invite-only entry where Facebook puts little to no inspection. 
Public indifference: People generally tend to believe things that confirm their prejudices no matter how bizarre they’re. This is where often all the problem begins. In the era of social media, which breaks the traditional notion of gate-keeping in the flow of information, one has to be much more cautious in relying on content found online. People need to be their own gatekeepers. They should control their predispositions and take time to verify a claim or information and knowledge from random online sources before passing it on. But this opposite is happening in most cases. Even people with advanced academic backgrounds did not bother to take down their social media posts despite being notified, with evidence, that those were fake news stories. 
Indifference of the media: The mainstream media is partly responsible for the current surge in misinformation. The media has been steadily losing its credibility due to its partisan role in crucial issues. In Bangladesh there is no data available to say anything about people’s trust in media. But if one takes the increasing shrinking of media freedom into consideration, it can be said that the situation is even worse here. Gradually losing trust in the mainstream media, people have been in search of alternatives, and social media emerged as an option for them. With confirmation bias among the masses proliferating, unfiltered social media and purposefully erected “online portals” filled the vacuum that was created by the erosion of trust in mainstream media. Increasing self-censorship in the Bangladeshi media landscape is a sign that the media itself is apathetic about regaining its trust. This plays into the hands of the peddlers of fake news. Moreover, there is no visible effort in the mainstream media to fight online misinformation, rather top news outlets fall for fake news on a daily basis leaving the readers bamboozled, which is further contributing to eroding trust in media.
Indifference of policy mechanism: Often, policy makersask people not to go with “gujob” or rumours—in other words, “fake news”—and sometimes, they issue warnings to those who play with people’s ignorance and emotion. There are lots of examples where the policy makers and law enforcing agenciesact “fierce anti-fake news” actor. However, the reality seems contradictory in practice. In December 2018, Facebook and Twitter said they had “removed accounts and fake news pages linked to the Bangladesh government that had posted anti-opposition content,” days ahead of the national election. But many fake news stories spread online by people linked to the government, and even sometimes high-ups peddled misinformation targeting the opposition (the opposition groups too targeted the government and the ruling party). To put it precisely, the people in power are vocal against some sort of fake news, but they are evidently reluctant to fight the monster as a whole.
Digital Literacy Matters:To combat the dis/misinformation, some countries are trying to formulate new laws and some have already done so. But such laws can be used to aggravate the current fragile free speech. The best weapon is education. Media literacy and digital literacy are a must to combat fake news. Finland has recently topped a list of European countries deemed to be the most resilient against disinformation thanks to its increasing digital literacy initiatives. They are teaching digital literacy in classrooms. Recently, government schools in India’s Kerala state started a similar campaign.Bangladesh is following such strategies, too.
Preliminary tips for detecting misinformation on digital platform
Check the URL: Before clicking on a link in your newsfeed, check the URL first. It can be a “mimic” of a renowned news organisation just replacing one or two “characters”, which you may not spot at first sight. If the name of the website is not familiar to you, search the name in Google and confirm the matter.
Know the publisher: After reading an article with “extraordinary” claims or information on a not “so-well-known” website, do not forget to verify what it is about. Is it a satirical publication? Or a blog? Or ideological propaganda website? Check the “About Us” section and take help from Google to know more about the publisher. “Who.is” can help you determine the owner of the domain.
Check the date: It’s a common mistake while reading online articles. Sometimes old stories resurface and can be taken out of context that amounts to misinformation.
Don’t be excited: After seeing a social media post containing extraordinary information that stunned you, control your emotion before clicking on the Share button. Simply Google the keywords or names mentioned in the story to find “news” in a reliable news outlet.
Notice the Ads: If you notice any social media post, no matter what stunning information or photo it contains, asking people to “spread it”, be careful. Such promotional content often contains misinformation designed to attract people to their platforms.
Beware of excessive adjectives: While reading news stories or social media posts, notice the use of adjectives. Professional news reporting does not contain excessive adjectives (negative or positive) to describe any characters; fake news and propaganda stories do.
Spelling is helpful: Grammatical and spelling mistakes in online articles are also indicators of non-professional work that cannot to be relied on.
Reverse Image Search: If a photo or video clip makes you confused about the claims it associated with, just use Google Reverse Image Search to come to a conclusion. You should enable the add-ons in your android handset or computer and follow through with the direction.
Fake news is now a global problem. But in societies like ours, this evil can do much more damage than anywhere else just because people here are less critical and more prone to believe any kind of campaign or propaganda. At a time when the reader him/herself has to play the role of gate-keeping in the ocean of unverified information about what to believe and what not to, fostering critical thinking is a must. The government has many things to do in this regard. And the people should equip themselves with adequate media literacy and digital education to save them from falling prey to fake news.
Access to Information
Right to Information: All individuals as citizens of any country have the right to seek and receive information held by government (except those concerning national security) and private authorities with a necessity to ensuring information transparency. Bangladesh has passed the Right to Information Act in 2009 for free flow of information and ensuring citizen better information and aiming to good governance. Right to access information is an important part of the right to freedom of thought, integrity, and expression. Moreover, knowing and receiving information is pre-requisite of the transmission of knowledge and information which is widely executed by journalists.
The freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh as a fundamental right. Though the right to seek and receive information is not cited clearly in the constitution, the Preamble of the Right to Information (hereinafter RTI) Act declares this right as an inalienable part of freedom of expression. Therefore, to make the RTI Act effective, Information Commission of Bangladesh (ICB) has been delegated to deal with publishing and providing information on demand of the citizens. Citizens in the country are not fully aware of the Right to Information Act. Both government and civil society organization can work together to literate people on access to information and build up a strong constituency.
Fact Check Bangladesh: There is thousands of fallacious news that pop up on Facebook and other social media platforms every day. Identifying a fake story is so tough, especially when it spread in Bangla as we don’t have a powerful Bangla search engine. There are minimal Bengali contents available to confirm a claim. BD FactCheck, a non-partisan and non-profit organization has the intention to reduce the level of deception and confusion regarding all kinds of national and international news in Bangladesh by debunking those.
Fact checking and media literacy and this type of urgency is often absent in our media. There are three fact-checking organizations, Jachai , BDFactcheck , and Fact Watch , have been around for the past few years operating with a scrappy team of fact-checkers, little equipment, and trying to raise awareness towards misinformation.
BD FactCheck is actively trying to fill this information gap and playing a crucial role in tackling the spread of propagandas. BD FactCheck has faced several challenges during corona pandemic. The first one is the stocking of the resources as archival system is very poor, and most of the governmental documents can’t be found online, it is much harder to conduct such research. Lack of sources and contents in Bengali and less powerful Bangla search engines are other important challenges. Developed tools like Artificial intelligence, social bots, and automation don’t work in Bengali, which makes this whole fact-checking process difficult and less effective. Currently, they can only check the authenticity of the news upon the request through message on their Facebook page ‘BD FactCheck’ or by posting the link on their Facebook group ‘BD FactCheck Community’.
Responsible use of internet and social media
As Internet users is growing fast, hate speech and misinformation is also spreading highly. However, there is a need to make balance between free speech and misinformation and hate speech. Firstly, we have to be responsible user and know the difference on freedom of speech and hate speech.Some of the dangers that happen online whereby predators use fake profiles and uses various tactics to lure their victims. Sometimes,these fake profiles are spreading hate towards other religion and women in particular which cause damage to society, goes against the principles of peace, justice and inclusive society. While government is trying to achieve SDGs, we all must come forward to achieve SDGs including SDGs-16 countering hate speech and misinformation.
We cannot resolve the real concerns and misuse of the Internet by reliance on technological “quick fixes.” By developing a comprehensive approach to address such concerns, society can help young people and others developing effective filtering and blocking systems to counter misinformation and hate speech which will ultimately help internet user more suitably use the internet being responsible as well.