One of the first academic studies to contextually examine how hate speech emerges and disseminates in social media, led by Dr Iginio Gagliardone from Wits Media Studies, has been featured by the BBC World Service. The interview with Iginio can be found here, while the findings of the research can be accessed at the links below.
Focusing on Ethiopia, and in collaboration with Addis Ababa University, the research team examined thousands of comments made by Ethiopians on Facebook during four months around the time of the country's general election.
Hate speech' – defined as statements to incite others to discriminate or act against individuals or groups on grounds of their ethnicity, nationality, religion or gender – was found in just 0.7% of overall statements in the representative sample.
Ethiopia represented an exceptional case study because of its distinct languages, which allowed the research team to gain a realistic sample of the overall online debates focused on one country. The research team analysed Facebook statements made by Ethiopians, both in their homeland and abroad, in the run-up to and just after the general election on 24 May 2015. Fans or followers, rather than people with any real influence online, were found to be mainly responsible for the violent or aggressive speech that appeared on Facebook pages in the sample.
It appears these individuals use Facebook to vent their anger against more powerful sections of society. Around 18% of total comments in the sample were written by fans or followers compared with 11% of comments made by highly influential speakers (the owners of web pages).
One fifth (21.8%) of hostile comments were grounded in political differences, only slightly higher than the overall average of 21.4% of all conversations containing hostile comments. Religion and ethnicity provoked fewer hostile comments (10% and 14% of overall comments in sample respectively).
The full report can be accessed here (104 pages)