Multicultural NSW recently launched Remove Hate from the Debate, a website designed to help people address online hate speech. Hate speech, as defined by the UN, is “any kind of communication… that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are”. This includes race, gender, religion and sexual orientation (but is not limited to these). Online hate speech can exacerbate negative thinking and quickly escalate disagreements, so it’s important to guide others towards respectful online behaviour, and help them avoid contributing to further division.

Step Together spoke to the program’s ambassador, James Fry, a Sydney based community welfare professional and author, about the damaging effects of hate speech and the importance of encouraging positive online engagement.

Step Together (ST): What is Remove Hate from the Debate and why was it developed?

James Fry (JF): In recent years there’s been a noticeable rise in people encountering hate speech, particularly when they are in an online setting. Where civil discussion and disagreement should be taking place, we instead find increased polarisation. Such an environment only serves to grow fear and hate. This is the antithesis of what is so phenomenal about the rich and diverse society we enjoy, not only in New South Wales where the campaign is based, but in Australia as a whole. We have the privilege of living in one of the most successful multicultural nations on the planet. But we can’t take that hard earned social cohesion for granted.

Remove Hate from the Debate was developed to provide simple (yet highly effective), tools and techniques so that everyday people like myself can challenge any hate speech we might encounter in a way that is likely to reduce hate, rather than fuel it even further.

ST: Why did you want to be involved in this initiative and what is your role as ambassador?

JF: Unchecked hate effects each and every one of us. From the breakdown of engagement with friends and family, right through to encouraging violence. A healthy society is one where different views can be discussed and even debated, but without the hate. That’s the kind of society I want to leave for my kids.

As a young person I was lucky enough to grow up in some of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs. It was here I got to witness the richness that came with such diversity. On the other side of the coin, I was also exposed to a hate group in my teens. This gave me first-hand experience of just how bleak and miserable a life driven by hate and division is. So when I was asked to be an ambassador for a campaign that seeks to protect and grow community cohesion, I jumped at the chance. Though the presence of hate can seem overwhelming at times, I truly believe that those committed to harmony with one another will find benefits that far outweighs any hate that exists.

As an Ambassador I’m looking to raise awareness of the positive difference this campaign can have, and I am also committed to practicing it in my own day to day life.

ST: What are some ways we can remove hate from the debate in our own lives?

JF: How we respond when we encounter hate speech makes a significant difference as to whether we improve the debate, or just continue to reinforce a cycle of division. As tempting as it may be to react angrily to something we don’t like, responding to hate with hate only makes things worse.

When we instead choose to respond with empathy and compassion, we leave the door open for possible “idea changing” dialogue to continue. That doesn’t mean we should ever tolerate direct threats or agree with hate speech, but through employing just a few simple techniques, we can allow for opportunities for the change of hateful views to occur.

The Remove Hate from the Debate team have put together some really practical tips you can share with other on how to help avoid and counter hate speech, including how to stay to stay cool and let others be heard. You can read them all at Remove Hate from the Debate – 10 Tips.

More resources to help someone avoid hate speech visit

For more on James Fry, visit:

If you need advice on how best to help someone you care about, call our Step Together helpline workers on 1800 875 204, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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