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Hate Speech: How to Respond in the World we Live in


Clare Sillence, ANZ ACBS Member, Social Worker

Sarah Mooy, ANZ ACBS Board Member, Psychologist

Toni Hanna, ANZ ACBS Member, Social Worker

Friday March 15th 2019 is one of many unleashed and tragic massacres that will remain in our memories for a long time. For many of us the news of the Christchurch massacre, like news of any mass killing, was such a contrast to how we had spent the rest of our week. How can we come from the safety of daily life and then experience such a violent contrast with the tragedy that unfolded in Christchurch. What can we do as a Community to respond in a productive and helpful way that does not perpetuate the hatred?

Death is universal.

Life becomes magnified in those moments, and for many there is no us and them. We are humanity and in those moments of tragedy, pain and loss, we are not divided; we are one with a shared pain.

What do we know about Hate Speech?

Hate speech is any expression that vilifies an identifiable group whether by race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity and thus prompts harm to members. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”  Australia and New Zealand have a history where racism against ethnic minorities and Indigenous peoples has been longstanding, toxic, public and violent (Cunneen, Fraser & Tomsen, 1997).

Hate speech: Online or Otherwise

Following the Christchurch tragedy, articles were posted depicting ways to incite hatred of Islam. Many of us are saddened by these posts on Facebook or on other media stages. Do we comment when this happens or, do we scroll past? As bystanders, how do we choose to be active and live by the values we believe in?

Australia and New Zealand are signatories to the ICCPR and have an obligation to prohibit by law “any advocacy of racial hatred that constitutes an incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”, and yet some prominent speakers’ comments following this tragedy, could be considered as an abuse of free speech.

The Impact of hate speech on individuals and communities

International studies suggest that experiences of racism are related to poor physical and mental health, including depression, anxiety and substance misuse (Paradies, 2008). Similar studies in Australia suggest that this impact is significant for Indigenous populations (Paradies, Harris & Anderson, 2005). LGBTQI+ people are three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the broader population (Beyond Blue, 2014).

More broadly, hate crime affects a whole community. A study was conducted with over 1000 Muslims and 2000 LGBTQI+ people to investigate the indirect effects of hate crime. Results showed that four out of five participants knew someone who had been victimised in the past three years. The most common responses were anger, anxiety, feelings of vulnerability and fear.

In the above study, six out of ten Muslim and LGBTQI+ people said that they preferred restorative justice to an enhanced prison sentence. They wanted to meet the perpetrators and communicate with them in order to explain the impact of their crime. They believed that this would be a more effective way to repair the harm, hatred and prejudice (Paterson, Brown and Walters, 2018).

In order to find ways to address intolerance and hatred, we have to recognise and reject the conduct itself as well as the prejudice. We can express sympathy and support to targeted individuals or groups, and find ways to take action in addressing hate speech both publicly and online.

There are many of us who fight hate; who stand up against intolerance and exclusion. As New Zealand has shown, more often than not, when hate rears up, love, compassion and kindness are present in communities as a powerful force.

What can we do?


  1. Speak Out!

  2. Whether online or in everyday life we can ignore hateful comments and shift our focus to the person or group experiencing hate.

  3. We can offer words of support, kindness and compassion to the victims of hate speech.

  4. Be mindful of getting caught up in pointless online arguments and attempting to change people’s opinions and beliefs. You could ask yourself: Where do I want to use my energy? How do I want to use my time? Am I willing to not have the last word? And ultimately, if things become too intense or aggressive, be willing to walk away from the discussion.

  5. Seek-out Information.

  6. Be aware of local support groups that may be able to offer support to those experiencing hate speech.

  7. Reflect on our own biases and be willing to model this to others so they can do the same.

  8. Stand together with victims.

  9. Focus on community and unity. Explore activities through community centres, churches or schools that support minority groups.

  10. If you witness hate speech online or in the community, stand with victims, let them know this person isn’t speaking for the community.

  11. Build community.

  12. Encourage community discussions about how to combat hate speech, what can be done in your specific community.

  13. Explore ways to model inclusion and unity in the community and online. How can we help people from minority groups to feel more included. Ask these community members what they would find helpful.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” – Baha’U’Llah

Resources to Explore

References and Bibliography

BBC News How hate crime affects a whole community Retrieved from

The Conversation (2016). Hate crimes against LGBTQ people are a public health issue Retrieved from

Smith, L. (2012). Hate Crime in Australia: an analysis of the views of police detainees. Retrieved from

Australian Association of Social Workers (2016). Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Re: Freedom of speech in Australia.

Trig, G. and Burnside, J. (2019) Australia needs stronger laws to deal with hate speech. in Sydney Morning Herald.  Retrieved from

Free Word Centre, Article 19 (2018). Responding to ‘hate speech’ with positive measures: A case study from six EU countries. Retrieved from:

Cunneen, C., Fraser, D., & Tomsen, S. (Eds) (1997). Faces of Hate: Hate Crime in Australia Retrieved from

Paradies, Y., Harris, R., & Anderson, I. (2008). Racism as a Determinant of Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from

Paterson, J., Brown, R., & Walters, M. (2018). The Short and Longer Term Impacts of Hate Crimes Experienced Directly, Indirectly, and Through the Media. Retrieved from

Paradies, Y. (2005). Anti-Racism and Indigenous Australians. Retrieved from

Beyond Blue (2014). Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who Are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse. Retrieved from

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