Harmless cursing or hateful comments: international perspectives on hate speech

Managing online communities is no easy task. People can be harmed by seeing hateful messages on their social media feeds, but they also get annoyed and confused when one of their posts gets deleted. Erasmus University Rotterdam teamed up with the University of Texas at Austin (USA) and Universidade NOVA (Portugal) to assess the way people in different countries understand hate speech.

The results of this research not only provide novel insights into the topic of hate speech and online incivility, but are also an important contribution to a larger project aiming to find ways to improve online hate speech moderation.

We found that internet users in different European countries have a diffused understanding of what hate speech is, whereas people in the US have a clearer understanding of what it entails. This means that we cannot, and should not, generalize online content moderation. Our results suggest that ways of moderating online hate speech should be adapted to the country as cultural and national contexts play a role in how hate speech is seen. For example, platforms in Portugal and the Netherlands should highlight their definitions of hate speech more prominently in the community guidelines as the distinction between hate speech and simple coarse language is unclear in these countries.

More details about this research project can be found in the document Harmless cursing or hateful comments: international perspectives on hate speech (PDF).