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Turkish professor visits iSchool to study effects of cyberhate


It can start out as a differing of opinions on a social media or a website blog post. Suddenly, it can escalate from name calling to a full attack on an individual’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation.Unfortunately, hate speech has been around for centuries but with the advent of the Internet, it has evolved into a new electronic form - cyberhate.

Serkan Celik, Associate Professor at Hacettepe University’s Faculty of Education in Ankara, Turkey, worked with University of Texas School of Information Associate Professor Ken Fleischmann in spring 2015 to study various aspects of cyberhate. Celik has served as an English instructor and assistant professor for Turkish state universities for 15 years. Hacettepe University is ranked No. 1 among Turkish universities with medical schools, according to the university’s website.

“Our project aims to raise awareness of cyberhate and the risks it poses, to promote media and Internet literacy and to support young people in standing up for human rights, both off and online,” Celik said. “We want to mobilize, train and create a network of online youth activists to defend human rights and develop tools, such as international policy instruments, to combat hate speech.”

This research included important implications for human rights and media education, citizenship and Internet literacy. “Raising awareness is of major importance in the fight against hate speech on the Internet,” Celik said. “Thus, education is paramount for raising awareness of hate speech and its risks for young people because they may feel very alone and powerless against cyberhate. If we can educate students who are growing up with the Internet about the evils of hate speech and the ways to filter it, then we can lessen the impact of it and perhaps we can persuade students to not engage in that kind of speech. It is crucial, in this sense, we develop educational programs that address cyberhate in an effort to prevent young people from contributing to it.”

As in communities having variety in terms of ethnicity, religion and politics,Turkish society has experienced hate speech and behavior because of a lack in consensus of all these different groups in the decision-making processes regarding individual rights and freedom.

“This research has both intellectual merit in enhancing our understanding of cyberhate and the broader impact in helping to address it,” Fleischmann said. “Cyberhate is particularly important and timely since so many people use the Internet on a regular basis. We want to take some sort of corrective action regarding all of the hateful content out there. That content cuts across just about every demographic category. We’re trying to do what we can to prevent cyberhate.”