Quantifying hate speech in cyberspace
Karachi: The 63-page study on hate speech in Pakistani cyberspace, launched by Bytes for All on Saturday, attempts to define and quantify the content and extent of hate speech in Pakistani cyberspace and has been authored by digital journalist Jahanzaib Haque, who is the editor of Dawn’s web edition.
It defines hate speech as “speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation” and divides them into two basic categories: speech that should be regulated or prohibited by law, and speech that is problematic but falls through the cracks with regard to prosecution.
According to the study that was conducted from November 2013 to February 2014 and gathered the responses of 559 internet users, 92 percent of the people had come across hate speech on the internet while 51 percent of them had been a target of it. Most of the content was surveyed from the top 30 Facebook and Twitter pages and 91 percent of the survey respondents said they had come across hate speech on Facebook, as compared to Twitter.
The biggest chunk of the hate speech was on Facebook (91 percent), closely followed by Twitter and blogs with 49 percent each. The rest of the hate speech was observed to be on video-sharing websites (44 percent) and 37 percent via SMS and MMS.
According to the study, Pakistani Facebook users hate their politicians, since 38 percent of all hate speech was targeted against them, with the media running up behind as a close second with 10 percent. On the other hand, on Twitter 11 percent attacks were targeted against politicians while seven percent against the media.
Moreover, among religious groups, 70 percent attacks on both mediums were targeted against the Shia community, followed by 61 percent against Ahmedis, 43 percent against Hindus, 39 percent against Christians and 48 percent against atheists. Among ethnicities, 38 percent attacks were targeted against the Pakhtun community, 31 percent against the Baloch, 27 against Punjabis and 23 percent against Sindhis.
The pillars of the state were also included as separate categories in the survey, which revealed that the highest criticism was for the government(41 percent), followed by 36 percent for the media, 24 percent for the judiciary and 22 percent for the armed forces.
Of the total discourse on Facebook, 74 percent was in Roman Urdu, followed by 22 percent in English; on Twitter, 67 percent was in English and 28 percent in Roman Urdu.
Interestingly, less than a percent of the total hate speech could be criminalised based on the definition of hate speech in the study. This suggests the solution to the problem does not lie in greater state action as regards catching and prosecuting individuals and groups or through bans, but by alternate means.