Fear speech is much less studied than hate speech. In 2021 a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology and M.I.T. published the first large-scale quantitative study of fear speech.

In an analysis of two million WhatsApp messages in public Indian chat groups, they found that fear speech was remarkably difficult for automated systems to detect because it doesn't always contain the derogatory words that can characterize hate speech.

'' We observed that many of them are based on factually inaccurate information meant to mislead the reader,'' wrote the paper's authors, Punyajoy Saha, Binny Mathew, Kiran Garimella and Animesh Mukherjee.

Human judgement is often needed to differentiate between real fears and false fears, but the tech platforms often don't spend the time or develop the local knowledge to research all the fears being expressed.   

NEARLY ALL OF THE TECH PLATFORMS have developed extensive and detailed rules banning hate speech after finding that the first thing that happens on a new social network is that users start tossing slurs at one another.

THE EUROPEAN UNION even monitors the speediness with which tech platforms remove hate speech.

But fear is weaponised even more than hate by leaders who seek to spark violence. Hate is often part of the equation, of course, but fear is almost always the key ingredient when people feel they must lash out to defend themselves.

Understanding the distinction between fear inducing and hateful speech is crucial as we collectively grapple with how to govern global internet platforms.

Most tech platforms do not shut down false fear-inciting claims such as ''Antifa is coming to invade your town'' and '' Your political enemies are pedophiles coming for your children.''

But by allowing lies like these to spread, the platforms are allowing the most perilous types of speech to permeate the society.

SOMETHING MORE DANGEROUS THAN HATE SPEECH. Fear-inciting speech across the globe -which isn't banned by the big tech platforms, is one of social media's biggest perils.

THIS Year, Facebook and Twitter allowed a video of a talk to be distributed on their platforms in which Michael J. Knowles, a right-wing pundit, called for ''transgenderism'' to be ''eradicated''.

The Conservative Political Action Coalition, which hosted the talk, said in its social posts promoting the video that the talk was '' all about the left's attempt to erase biological women from modern society.''

Susan Benesch, the executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project, said the genocidal leaders often use fear of a looming threat to prod groups into pre-emptive violence.

Those who commit the violence do not need to hate the people they are attacking. They just need to be afraid of the consequences of not attacking.

FOR INSTANCE before the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu politicians told the Hutus that they were about to be exterminated by Tutsis. During the Holocaust, Nazi propagandists declared the Jews were planning to annihilate the German people.

Before the Bosnian genocide, Serbs were warned to protect themselves from a fundamentalist Muslim threat that was planning a genocide against them.

'' I was stunned at how similar this rhetoric is from case to case,'' Ms. Bensch told me in an interview for The Markup.

''It's as if there's some horrible school that they all attend.''

The key feature of dangerous speech, she argued, is that it persuades ''people to perceive other members of a group as a terrible threat. That makes violence seem acceptable, necessary or even virtuous.''

The Publishing of the essay continues into the future. The World Students Society thanks author Julia Angwin.


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