Children's experiences with cyberhate - new research report

28 Apr 2020

New EU Kids Online report investigates the topic of cyberhate, hateful content on the internet, and the related experiences of children from 10 European countries. Over 9,000 children, aged 11-17, were surveyed about their encounters with hateful content and messages. Our findings show that encountering cyberhate is becoming a prevalent experience for children, though it varies across the investigated countries. The report was authored by IRTIS members Hana Macháčková, Marie Bedrošová and David Šmahel together with Catherine Blaya and Elisabeth Staksrud from EU Kids Online network.

What is cyberhate?

Cyberhate is online hate speech expressed on the internet through computers and mobile phones. It spreads and attempts to justify intolerance and discrimination. It attacks people according to their group characteristics, such as ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. Cyberhate involves online extremism and hate groups, but it increasingly appears in the regular online experience and communication via social media, news websites, and discussion fora. And it does not exclude young internet users.

In the current report 9,459 children, aged 11-17, from the Czech Republic, Finland, Flanders, France, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia were asked about their experiences with cyberhate based on ethnic background and religion.

Why should we be concerned?

Cyberhate is a serious issue that has negative impacts on the people who encounter it and on society as a whole. It causes harm to the victims who are targeted simply because they belong to a group or because of their family and origin. In addition, exposure to cyberhate might have negative consequences even for those who are not targeted.

More hate in society also leads to more intolerance. This adds to the acceptance of prejudice and discriminatory attitudes and behaviour towards already vulnerable groups and minorities. In extreme cases, cyberhate can lead to hate crimes and violence in the offline world.

“Research in France shows that emotional consequences are significant for victims and also witnesses, including those who are not targeted by the posted hateful contents, and both groups report primarily anger and hate following their exposure or victimisation. It is thus important to take the issue seriously, even though percentages might seem low.”

Catherine Blaya
cyberhate expert, report author

Which children are exposed to cyberhate?

Being exposed to cyberhate refers to encountering hateful content. It does not necessarily mean being personally targeted. Findings from the new report show that encountering cyberhate content on the internet is not rare among children aged 11-17; however, this varies across the countries. While in France, 21% of children reported that they had been exposed to some hateful content online, the same was reported by 59% of Czech children.

Moreover, children encountered such content daily or almost daily between 1% (Italy, Slovakia) and 6% (Czech Republic). Across all countries, the experience is closely related to age, with more older children encountering cyberhate content.

How many children are victimised by cyberhate?

The number of children who were victims of cyberhate and received hateful and degrading messages against themselves or their communities varied from 3% (Italy) to 13% (Poland). Most of these children were targeted sporadically (i.e., a maximum of a few times during the preceding year). Daily attacks were reported by less than 1% of the children in all of the countries. There were no substantial age or gender differences, though Poland had slightly more older children who reported being cyberhate victims.

How often children perpetrate cyberhate?

The number of children who acknowledged that they had acted as cyberhate perpetrators varied between 1% (Italy) and 8% (Poland, Romania). This means that they sent hateful and degrading messages or posted comments against someone or a group of people. The engagement in such activity was again mostly sporadic, with less than 1% of the children reporting that they had targeted someone weekly or more often.

Conclusion

Cyberhate is becoming a prevalent phenomenon in online spaces. It has entered everyday online communication and it does not exclude young children and adolescents who are frequent internet users. Children aged 11-17 who reported encountering some hate online ranges from 21% (France) to 59% (Czech Republic).

Even though the numbers of children who reported being personally victimised by cyberhate or being the perpetrators are smaller, the consequences might be serious, especially since cyberhate attacks people based on their identities and group characteristics, which are often innate and unchangeable.

“Based on our findings, seeing hate content on the internet is something that quite a lot of children experience today. We need to talk with children about these experiences and help them to understand and respond to such content. Moreover, while direct involvement in both cyberhate victimisation and aggression is not very common, we still need to identify which children are most prone to being victims or aggressors, and adjust prevention and intervention strategies accordingly.”

Hana Machackova
cyber aggression expert, report author

Article author: Marie Bedrošová

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