Hate on the Web is not a new phenomenon. But with the pandemic and its effects, the development takes on a new dimension.
There is a clash of diametrically opposed attitudes between people who support the measures against the pandemic and those people who deny the threat posed by it. COVID-19 deniers are particularly aggressive in targeting dissenters and media outlets they believe serve as government mouthpieces or are controlled with government financial aid.
The hostilities and confrontations between the two camps also escalate in interactions on Kleine Zeitung’s channels. It’s in the comments on the Kleine Zeitung forum, in posts on the Kleine Zeitung channels on Facebook and Instagram, and in letters to the editor-in-chief. This not only leads to insults and threats between users, but also toward employees and the Kleine Zeitung company.
This development is challenging all established media brands. The number of comments and the severity of the tone flows in sync with the COVID waves. When there is a new lockdown due to an extremely high number of new infections, the number of hate comments on our page spikes. When things are opening up again, things also calm down in our comment sections.
At Kleine Zeitung, we are taking a firm stance against this development in our forums and channels, and assume responsibility for the debate culture on our platforms. Insulting and threatening posts and fake news are actively managed, hidden, and deleted. Posts relevant to criminal law are actively reported to the authorities. We take active action against the public discrediting the Kleine Zeitung media brand, which baselessly and dubiously denies our independence and diversity of opinion.
At the same time, we promote discussion and the objective, appreciative exchange of opinions among our readers. Quality is a central element of our brand image, and we also want to enforce this quality standard for our interaction channels. Our forums and channels should offer our users a safe space for exchanging opinions and discussing issues without running the risk of being personally attacked, insulted, or even threatened.
We also want to protect our interaction channels from abuse. At Kleine Zeitung, we do not want to expose our platforms for the dissemination of insults, abuse, or untruths under the guise of freedom of speech.
As the first newspaper brand in Austria, we publicised and addressed this development and the position of Kleine Zeitung with a campaign on this topic. As a disruptive element, we used actual hate comments that we have received to illustrate how much hate speech we screen on our platforms every day.
In a campaign video, our editor-in-chief, community managers, and other editors and reporters who receive and screen those messages read them out aloud to draw attention to the level of hatred. We aimed to show that hate speech is not a crime without a victim. There is always a person behind the screen, and we wanted to give a face to that.