Special Report “Whenever I get hate speech, I block it.” Fighting hate speech in conflict torn South Sudan

Lino Yai speaks about hate speech at the University of Juba on Tuesday June 26th, 2018 (Photo by Kitab):

Kitab A Unango

Before Lino Yai, a third year student of University of Juba attended training on hate speech prevention he did not know what hate speech was and how to prevent it.  He used to post anything on the facebook whether positive or negative without knowing its dangers in fueling the South Sudan conflict.

However, that has changed since last year when Yai attained training on hate speech mitigation. He now fights the vice both online and off line.

Since the outbreak of violence in the world’s newest country in December 2013, South Sudanese have called attention to how hate speech has inflamed further violent conflict. Online hate speech was a concern even before the onset of hostilities in December 2013. Diaspora communities around the world have increasingly voiced their grievances through social media, often using inflammatory language and images.

Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation. In South Sudan it is however mostly used to negatively target individual or group of persons based on certain identifiers.

“Now I make sure whatever I post for public consumption is positive,” Yai said adding that he can now report and block any negative information and message that incites people to fight and perpetuate hatred in society.

“I don’t condone any form of hate speech that provokes people,” he said. Whenever I come across such I immediately counter it by either reporting or blocking it,” he added.

Lino Yai is one of hundreds of South Sudanese youth fighting the spread of hate speech in the country. He got trained last year together with other youth from across the country by a local Defyhatenow campaign group engaged in combating hate speech in fueling South Sudan’s five year old conflict.

Yai is also instrumental in preventing hate speech in his family.

“Since I attended the training last year I have been educating my family about the dangers of hate speech and how to prevent it whenever someone attacks them,” Yai said.

He said Defyhatenow opened his eyes adding that he can now analyze contexts of the social media postings.

Mr. Yai called upon South Sudanese to shun hate speech and live in peace with one other.

“I appeal to youth in South Sudan to stop spreading speeches that are likely to cause havoc in our country so as to South Sudanese can live in peace and unity,” Yai added.

He also urged defyhatenow and other hate speech activists in the country to expand their campaign to all rural and urban areas to educate people about the dangers and how to mitigate hate speech.

It is because of the widespread hate speech that Defyhatenow campaign was launched after the 2016 July fighting in Juba, to combat fueling of conflict by hate speech both off and online.

Ms. Marina Ladu Modi, director of #defyhatenow, speaks about hate speech from her office on Monday June 25th, 2018 (photo by Kitab):

The director of #defyhatenow Marina Ladu Modi admitted that hate speech has been one of the driven forces behind all forms of violence in South Sudan.

“Hate speech is very dangerous. It attacks people both at individual level and community level. Hate speech also provokes and irritates people to take law in to their hands and it again discriminates and undermines people’s coexistence,” the Defyhatenow’s director explained.

Defyhatenow in collaboration with other activist groups such as Youth for Peace, Junub Open Space, Ana Taban and Gogirls ICT counter hate speech both off and online by educating and raising awareness about its dangers.

Ms. Marina also attributed the ongoing suffering of women in various forms to hate speech that targeted women.

“Many women, due to hate speech spread on social media either to fuel the war or directed to influence perceptions about them, have faced a lot of challenges such as joblessness, divorce and exploitation,” she revealed.

Ms. Marina pointed out that those who spread hate speech mainly aim at discriminating and disintegrating South Sudanese community both within the country and in the diaspora.

She revealed that her campaign will soon launch social media hate speech mitigation training book that would be used by trainers of trainees to teach more people on combating hate speech. She said the campaign group will continue to train more people to off gender based hate speech and other forms of hate speech both on line and off line.

Ms. Marina Lado, director of #defyhatenow, shows the Social Media Hate Speech Mitigation Book that will soon be launched. (Photo by Kitab):

According to Marina, social media platforms have been the mostly used to disseminate hate speech to mass audiences across South Sudan to fuel the conflict.

“People use social platforms such as facebook, Instagram and twitter to disseminate negative messages and information with intentions to cause chaos and to disintegrate our community,” Ms. Marina said.

Ms. Marina pointed out that South Sudanese, apart from using weapons, have resorted to another form of war she referred to as “cold war” to fight each other based on gender, religion and ethnicity.

“This is the time of another war with minds and words and it is the most dangerous war than fighting using weapons because its wound is very difficult to heal and can be passed to generations to another,” Ms. Marina warned.

She said words such as MTN, Buda-mamnuo (prohibited goods) and Nuer-wew were some of the hate speech targeting groups of people, which have have perpetuated the ongoing conflict.

Nhial Pajok a third year student of Mass Communication in the University of Juba said hate speech postings on social media have destroyed social fabric of South Sudanese community.

“Calling names that provoke individuals or groups of people are considered as hate speech and they are dangerous. We are South Sudanese  are already being destroyed and polarized along ethnic lines because of hate speech postings on social media,” Pajok said.

He added that women were not happy by the way their male counterparts refer to them in degrading manner.

“Men invite hatred for themselves by the way they treat women because they feel men do not consider them as human beings,” Nhial said.

He said the training he acquired from #defyhatenow has helped him in mitigation hate speech.

“The knowledge I acquired from #defyhatenow has helped me to differentiate between normal communications and hate speech,” he said. “Now I can control myself and avoid spreading hate speech because I know whatever I post or say will have impact to readers or someone who listens to it,” Pajok quipped.

He added that the ongoing conflict has been fueled by hate speech and women paid the price.

“Women rights are being violated by the ongoing war caused by hate speech and their views are not valued because they have been minimized by negative postings about them on social media,” Pajok said.  “Even if a woman holds a big post in the government, a woman is still considered nothing,” he added.

He said some of the community members do not recognize women and their roles in the community that is why they attack women referring to them as incapable.

“Women are capable to do anything we can do so there is no need for us to post negative things about them that lowers their dignity on social media,” Pajok said.

Pajok is now fighting on line and off line gender based hate speech and all forms of hate speech.

“I am now trying my level best to counter attacks on women by responding or replying negative postings with positive messages,” he said.  “I sometimes warn some of them not to continue attacking women and if they persist, I report them to facebook. I also tell people to refrain from attacking women on facebook,” Pajok added.

According to Screen of Rights Report on Gender Based Hate Speech released this week, women appointed to senior positions in the government often suffer attacks on social media as being accused of using themselves to get such positions.

Screen of Rights through Action Against Hate report on gender based hate speech, cited the former first female governor of the then Warrap State, Nyandeng Malek Dhielic as one of the victims of attacks on women.

The report pointed out that Nyandeng, in her lecture on women and the law to the third year students of law in late 2014 at the University of Juba, said she was severely abused and attacked on social media due to her gender status.

The report added that many people had felt that Nyandeng was a female and that the position she held was too big for her to manage.

“Why male governors are allowed to produce with their wives and female constitutional post holders are not allowed,” the report read in part.

Although Freedom of speech is enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, the Media Authority Act 2013 and Rights of Access to Information Act 2013 compliment the constitutional provisions on hate speech and defamation.

According to Section 289 of Penal Code 2008, defamation is a crime and upon conviction one is to be sentenced to a term not exceeding two years imprisonment.  However, women have continued to be defamed on social media without legal actions.

Sometimes their male counterparts say they have been assigned to big positions because of the fact that they are women.

Screen of Rights in the Action Against Hate Report stated that most of the hate speech circulated on social media were posted by South Sudanese community living abroad.

The report again showed that malicious words were used to dehumanize Angelina Teny the former Deputy Minister of Petroleum in the Interim Government of 2015.

Pajok appealed to youth and social media users to refrain from posting negative information about women on social media adding that women were very important in the community.

“We should value and respect women because they are our mothers and they play important roles in the family,” Pajok urged.


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