RESEARCH OF THE ONLINE SPACE FOR XENOPHOBIC
MINDSETS AND LANGUAGE OF HATRED
This research is part of the project “Transition through art and knowledge”, funded in framework of the Program for support of the NGO’s in Bulgaria, according to the financial mechanism of the European Economical area 2009-2014. All responsibility for the content is of Mission Salvation Foundation and under no circumstances it can be assumed that it reflects the official standpoint of the financial mechanism of the European Economical area and the Operator of the Program for support of the NGO’s in Bulgaria.
The provided research from the project “Transition through art and knowledge” of the online space for xenophobic mindsets and language of hatred has two stages which aim to make a comparative analysis and to establish if there has been any quality change taken place, resulting from the planned activities. This initial report covers the first half of the project (November 2014 – April 2015).
The main target of the project is the refugees, seeking asylum in Bulgaria and in particular children and youth, who would achieve personal identification through art, as well as successful integration in the Bulgarian society through education and professional training. The specific goal is to assist the spreading of mechanisms for mutual aid and solidarity by a multicultural dialog, trainings and groups for mutual aid in the community of the marginal group.
The expectations are that the xenophobia and the language of hatred would be influenced by the active involvement of the civil society in the project.
LANGUAGE OF HATRED – ETIMOLOGY OF THE TERM
The language of hatred, according the definition of the European Council , ranges over all forms of expressions which spread, instigate, encourage or justify racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance, expressed as an aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against the minorities, migrants and people with immigrant origin.
In the dictionaries xenophobia (from Gr. ξένος – ‘unfamiliar, stranger’ and φόβος – ‘dread, fear’) is defined as a negative mindset, irrational fear and detestation, hostility towards unfamiliar, strange things, usually people. Some different sociological researches of the public opinion show that in the resent years these negative occurrences find increasingly wider grounds in our country. Romas, Turks and homosexuals are the main victims under the fire of the language of hatred. The start of the war in Syria (2011) and the increasing wave of refugees in our country since 2013 raised the negativism and xenophobia of the Bulgarians towards the migrants, as well. According to a research of “Open Society” Foundation in 2013, the main sources of hatred messages and intolerance toward the different public groups are the media, family and friends. (1)
METHODOLOGY OF THE RESEARCH
For the purposes of this research quantitative indexes are measured and analyzed, such as number of negative and positive news, as well as the number of negative and positive commentaries, published in different electronic media and social networks. It has been also done a semantic analysis of the texts in order to establish has the language of hatred been used in them.
ANALYSIS OF THE NEWS PUBLISHID IN THE NET
A small part of the Bulgarian society has a direct daily contact with foreigners in order to be able to build up a personal judgment and mindset. Therefore, the main source for information that forms opinion and leads to taking certain position, appear to be the media. For this reason, their role is of a great importance. Usually, in order to draw the attention of the public, they somewhat overexpose the topic with the threat of the refugee crisis or they simply turn into an uncritical platform for racial and xenophobic standpoints.
The present research includes and analyzes 55 news and articles, published in 44 different internet portals and printed media. The analysis shows that out of all publications, only 13 has positive message, 6 are negative and the predominant part of them (36) are neutral in their content. (Chart 1)
Similar results are not surprising, bearing in mind the fact that the role of the media is to inform and present the different standpoints without taking any side, and to give a chance to the public to create an opinion of its own. So, it is quite expected to see that the majority of the publications don’t carry strongly expressed positive or negative charge. Chart 2 shows the percentage division of the type of news.
For the goal of the semantic analysis a free online software NETPEAK has been used, which quantitatively measures the expressions used in the text. The publications qualified as neutral for the most of their parts are informative and represent different viewpoints (for instance the publication “Unrest at the refugee camp “Military ramp”, policemen injured” of dariknews.bg gives a platform for expression, not only to the SAR but also to the refugees) and in them there are no statements implying hatred. It is interesting to note that the article mentioned has provoked 16 reader’s comments of which only one is positive, and the rest are a blunt expression of racial and ethnical hatred. The used qualifications are of the kind “waif Gypsies”, “Taliban”, “nasty”, “African scum”. This observation is going to be commented a little later simply because the mentioned occasion is not the only one.
The attention is drawn by another publication as well, which falls into the same group. The article belongs to Plovdiv-online and tells about an action of the Italian Cost Guard for the rescue of illegal immigrants whose vessel overturned in the waters of the Mediterranean. It is lacking negative suggestions but with the goal in mind to draw the readers’ attention, the media has put a scandalizing title: “See how 700 refugees are drowning”. (2)
The greater part of the positive publications are telling about the human face of the people, seeking asylum in our country, about the hardships and challenges they are facing and need to overcome. There are also stories about humanness and the stretched out hand from the part of the local community toward the refugees. “Help”, “cooperation”, “integration”, “solidarity”, “support”, “hospitality” and “accepted” are the words that most often have the positive charge. For example, in an interview of Radio Focus with Hristo Grigorov, head of the Bulgarian Red Cross, about the integration of the refugees, the word “help” has been used 11 times, as well as the related to it “helped” (3 times) and “while helping” (2 times). (3) According to the calculation of the online software program NETPEAK this represents a little over 5% of all the words used in the text.
In part of the news, carrying the negative message, offending qualifications haven’t been used directly but there are expressions which provoke tension and impose guilt: “we are spending big money for the support of refugees, building up installations, equipment which brakes, building up the roads in the forests – these are millions given by the Bulgarian tax-payer.” (4) More worrying are the publications in which one can clearly see tendency and a deliberate attempt to instill fear and hatred. This happens more often with media, owned by extreme nationalistic parties. For example, in some reports of the Alpha TV one can hear qualifications related to the Roma and refugees like: “parasites of the state”, “dangerous strangers”, “new-comer and immigrant”…
In a publication of haskovo.net the negative attitude has being expressed by words and qualifications like: “scrimmage”, “massacre”, “ringleader”, “mob”, “tragicomedy”, “with looks of unshaved huskies”, “like sheep”. It can be deciphered in the very title: “Refugees’ Spitz command shuts people’s mouths for the massacre in Harmanly”. (5)
ANALYSIS OF THE COMMENTS PUBLISHED ON THE NET
While in the journalists’ publications prevails rather a neutral tone and seldom offending expressions are being used in regards to one or another social group, in the readers’ comments the language of hatred is harnessed in full measure. This conclusion is confirmed by the research done online. Total of 935 comments have been analyzed, after 34 publications in 19 different media.
Out of the 935 mentioned comments, hardly 190 are positive, 206 – neutral and 467 are negative and have the signs of the language of hatred. Furthermore, 72 have been deleted by the moderators of the media, due to extremely vulgar statements and offences in regards to racial, sexual, ethnic or beliefs grounds, or they have been appeals for violence towards certain people. (Chart 3)
The diagram below, representing the percentage distribution of the type comments, very clearly shows the significant prevalence of the language of hatred over the well-intentioned tone. Half of all the analyzed comments content offensive qualifications in regards to one or another community group and are a manifestation of clear hostility, discrimination and intolerance. The most often used expressions are “trash”, “scum”, “monkey”, “primates”, “mob”, “rabble”, “Talibanes”, “invaders”…
If we add to these the other 8% deleted by the administrator of the website due to extremely xenophobic and offensive statements, the whole picture appears to be really disturbing with prevailing negative public mindsets and lack of tolerance toward differences. Less than a quarter (20%) of the comments are positive and defending the marginalized groups. Approximately this is the share of the ones, that are rather neutral and don’t take side (22%). (Chart 4)
The research of the online space for xenophobic mindsets and language of hatred has established, without making the claim to be a correct representation, that the media publications even without the negative message in their language, provoke the reaction of this section of the audience, who is xenophobic in their thinking and articulation.
In 27 of all the 34 publications, the negative comments prevail over the positive. (Chart 5)
Even the articles, which are well-intentioned and their main goal is to present the human side of the problems with the Roma minority or the refugee crisis, provoke intolerance and hostile statements. Only two out of all the six positive articles, prevail the good tone in the comments. We’ve got enough base to make the conclusion that the media influence is not enough to change these negative public mindsets. It is recommendable to use all tools possible to change the mindsets and thinking.
One of the possible solutions is education in tolerance and respect towards the different one since an early childhood, as well as perhaps a broader involvement of civil society in volunteer initiatives, associated with the marginalized groups. Mission Salvation Foundation actively works towards attracting volunteers who would get involved in the direct work with the refugees. On the website timeheroes.org we can see that some other non-government organizations are also seeking the support of volunteers for their initiatives, such as “Be a volunteer at a refugee center in Sofia” of Karitas, Sofia, “Help at art workshops with refugee children” of the Association for development of the Arab-Bulgarian initiatives and collaboration “Arabis”, etc.
Another disturbing observation is that in part of the comments there are not only offensive qualifications but there is also an open call for taking the law in their own hands: “we need to get them drown in the ditches”, “…there are people to watch the border and if needed to protect them with force, there will be force applied”, “shoot on flesh”.
ANALISYS OF PUBLICATIONS IN THE SOCIAL NETWORKS
With technology development and the entering of internet into our lives, the social networks have turned into the main instrument for communication in our day to day living. This is the place where in the resent year people make up different groups based on interests. That is why in the online research one of them was included, namely Face book, as being the most popular and used network in Bulgaria. 14 Face book groups were analyzed, where the people have gathered by the principle of sympathy and antipathy towards refugees. (“Friends of the refugees”, “Humanitarian aid for the refugees in Bulgaria”, “No to the Syrian refugees in Bulgaria”, “No to the refugees in our sea capital”, “Refugees: Out of Bulgaria!”, “Friends of the refugees in Stara Zagora”, “Movement for language without hatred”, “Ovcha kupel – refugees”, “Bloggers against the language of hatred”, “Immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants from Bulgaria”, “Defense of the rights of the immigrants in Bulgaria”, “Sofia’s xenophobia”, “People against racism”, “Anti-hatred”).
Six of them represent an alliance of people with xenophobic mindsets and the rest have been created for the purpose of showing support to the refugees or to counteract the language of hatred. (Chart 6)
Two of the groups are closed type : “Defense of the rights of the immigrants in Bulgaria” (6) with 236 members and “Bloggers against the language of hatred” with 17 members by October 13, 2015. (7) The good news is that the groups in support of the refugees are able to draw more support; for example, in “Friends of the refugees” there are 4865 participants. (8) It is a different story as of how active are all of them. “Humanitarian aid for the refugees in Bulgaria” also enjoys great support. By October 13, 2015, 3604 people like it. (9) The groups that are against the refugees are having support on a smaller scale (for ex. 57 people) and some of them are not active anymore, for example such as “Refugees: Out of Bulgaria!”. (10) Exception is one of these groups: “Immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants from Bulgaria”, which is supported by 1212 people. (11) Although these alliances on the base of xenophobia to find less support, it is well known that the social networks are the place where the aggression and the language of hatred are very actively displayed.
It is hard to cover and analyze all the comments in these groups because of their great numbers but it can be definitely stated that in them rules unhindered by anybody the language of hatred. For example, in the group “Ovcha kupel – refugees” (29 people like it) the refugees are qualified as “trash”. Amongst the commentaries we can read further: “The dumpster is cleaner than what we’ve got here”, “At the moment we are shooting with gun-toys on the busses but you should see us later when we pull out the Kalashnikov’s and the RPG’s…”, “we turned into the world’s dumpster”. (12) Internet is the media of the free information without the function of control and edit, unlike the printed and electronic media. Therefore here can be seen the real mindset and people’s psychology of certain society or community. In this regard, a more in-depth social research with extract representation would give a more detailed picture of our reality.
Many offensive words are being used in different comments in the group “Immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants from Bulgaria”: “f**ked up country”, “diversionists”, “scamps”, “trash”… In the groups for support of the refugees, of course, the prevails the positive tone and their goal is to practically help the people who are forced to run away from the war and to leave home and family.
The media, though trying to avoid the negative tone and the extreme xenophobic qualifications, often turn into an agent to provoke the language of hatred. The picture that this online research depicts is of prevailing xenophobic mindsets in the readers’ commentaries, obvious hostility and discrimination against the minorities and immigrants. That is why it would be hard achievable for individuals or organizations to counteract the language of hatred. It is necessary to unite the efforts of all interested sides: government institutions, NGO’s, media and civil society in general.
In the Bulgarian legislation there are precautions taken to fight the language of hatred. It is defined as being a crime and it has been provided for those who use it to be punished with imprisonment from 1 to 4 years and a fine from five to ten thousand levs, and a public reprobation. (Penalty code, art. 162) According to the rights defending community this legislative measure is not effective simply because of the decline of the prosecutor’s office to initiate proceedings, based on signals, as well as self referring because of it. (13) Part of the role of the involved with the problem NGOs could be toward putting pressure on the government organ to enforce the law.
And just as always, the coin has two sides. The online research established that the picture of the public mindsets it isn’t black only. As a counterbalance to the xenophobic tendencies and hatred, some initiatives are starting to emerge in support of the refugees. A confirmation is some of the face book groups, mentioned above, as well as some different positive campaigns, such as “Look at the refugees with different eyes”of the advertisement agency New Moment New Ideas and the Supreme commissariat for refugees of the UN. (14) Mission Salvation Foundation also is trying to counteract to the xenophobia and the language of hatred, publishing on the website of the project different articles, telling about the human face and hard fate of those seeking protection. Other specific steps in this direction are the active involvement of volunteers who help the refugees to put into practice all that they learn during their classes in Bulgarian language. In the concerts, organized by the foundation, on the same stage we have together the refugees, taking part in the activities related to art and the children who are getting training at the Center for culture and education “The Palace of the happy people” of Mission Salvation. The free of charge hourly or daily care for refugee’s children at the Art kinder garden “Happy kids” helps not only the parents who are in a difficult situation but also helps for the education in tolerance and acceptance of the different One since an early childhood. For the school activities there are also some children of refugees enrolled and together with their Bulgarian mates, they are doing their homework for school. However, if we don’t want this to be only a drop in the ocean, it is important to have experience sharing and partnership between the different NGOs. This is a topic which Mission Salvation Foundation will put out for discussion at the upcoming conference for the problems of the refugees.
(1) Медии и обществени комуникации [http://media-journal.info/?p=item&aid=248], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(2) Plovdiv-online [http://www.plovdiv-online.com/component/k2/item/66778-vijte-k%D0%B0k-se-d%D0%B0vyat-700-bej%D0%B0ntzi], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(3) Радио Фокус [http://www.focus-radio.net/?action=opinion&id=19431], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(4) Днес, Дир бг [http://dnes.dir.bg/temite/news/boyko-borisov-evropeyski-savet-bezhanskiat-natisk-18932316?tag_id=132368], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(5) Хасково нет [http://www.haskovo.net/news/184153/Bezhanska-shpickomanda-zatvarya-ustite-za-klaneto-v-Harmanli#prettyPhoto], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(6) Защита правата на имигрантите [https://www.facebook.com/groups/immigrantrightsbg/?fref=ts], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(7) Блогъри срещу езика на омразата [https://www.facebook.com/groups/311727052361911/?fref=ts], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(8) Приятели на бежанците [https://www.facebook.com/groups/585850168115019/?fref=ts], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(9) Хуманитарна помощ за бежанците в България [https://www.facebook.com/humanitarian.aid.bg?fref=ts], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(10) Вън бежанците от България[ https://www.facebook.com/groups/1477441502480373/?fref=ts], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(11) Незабавна депортация на всички нелегални имигранти от България [https://www.facebook.com/%D0%9D%D0%B5%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B1%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%BD%D0%B8-%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B8-%D0%BE%D1%82-%D0%91%D1%8A%D0%BB%D0%B3%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%8F-600620263332651/timeline/], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(12) Овча купел-бежанци [https://www.facebook.com/%D0%9E%D0%B2%D1%87%D0%B0-%D0%9A%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%B5%D0%BB-%D0%B1%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%86%D0%B8-166842023521484/timeline/], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(13) Асоциация на европейските журналисти-България [http://www.aej-bulgaria.org/bul/p.php?post=3234], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015
(14) Програмата [http://programata.bg/?p=67&c=1&id=1193&l=1], Последно посетен: 14.10.2015