The battle to stop online hatred of people with disabilities

The battle to stop online hatred of people with disabilities

According to the observatory on rights, hate online has become radicalized and directed towards certain categories. Like people with disabilities. This is how it is being fought

Cyberbullying and hater (photo: Getty Images) Two 16-year-old girls and a boy kicked, punched and spit on a schoolmate with a disability while another filmed the episode with the cellphone. Added to the attack was the hateful dissemination of images on Facebook and Whatsapp, to mock the victim and humiliate him in front of those who had not witnessed. In another institution, four 15-year-olds created the Whatsapp group to offend and denigrate a companion with a disability. The young man, however, told everything at home and his parents turned to the police, who cited the case in the recent study Hatred against disabled people.

A deeper hatred

In its fifth report The map of intolerance (March-September 2020) Vox, the Italian observatory on rights, notes that "hate speech has decreased significantly compared to 2019". On Twitter we go from about 70% of negative tweets in the two surveys of 2019 to 43% of the first of 2020. However, this decline must not let our guard down. Because the peaks of hatred remain, which for Vox “indicate an important resurgence and a persistence, also detected by the number of tweets, which would seem to highlight a different use of social media. An almost more 'professional' use, where circles and groups of haters concentrate the production and dissemination of hate speech ".

We hate, in short, “in a different, more rooted and radical way, even if quantitatively the phenomenon has decreased. A panorama that worries ”, for Voxm because acting in this way“ is the activation factor of different and more organized forms of extremism ”. In this scenario, the observatory highlights that "disability is still pointed out as a disability not to be accepted. We saw this in the period of the pandemic, when the haters were unleashed against those most in need of care ".

Regarding distribution, research shows that the tweets of discrimination against disability are concentrated more in the North Italy, Lazio and Campania.

Pietism hurts too

“We were giving a presentation on Zoom. But the access code was published on a Telegram chat, and a dozen young people decided to 'devastate', as they call it, cursing and drawing penises and swastikas ". Thus begins the story of Niccol├▓ Cafagna, a journalist from Monza with a polite and ironic pen, author of the volume Diverso da chi?. Cafagna suffers from Duchenne's dystrophy, a genetic disease that affects the muscles and causes them to wane, which nails him to bed.

Just as evidenced by Vox's report, it was a carefully planned escalation, with the aim of suspending the event. “After ten minutes of back and forth and insults, we were forced to conclude. Too bad, ”he says. But the most burning disappointment lurked elsewhere. “The thing that hurt me the most was the pietism of these kids, which emerged clearly from the Telegram chats that we managed to recover after the complaint. 'Poor thing' they wrote, and that was the least of it. They added ungrammatical and unrepeatable phrases about women, praising the Duce: an ignoble sample “, comments Cafagna. And he comments: "I want to say it clearly: those conversations bothered me even more than the interruption itself, because it is an attitude that I also fight in my book".

The forms of hatred go reported

The consequences of such actions can be severe. Unauthorized access to the computer system, possession and dissemination of access codes, defamation, threats are some of the crimes that can be challenged. "The penalty depends on the combination", explains Lucia Muscari, director of the Postal Police serving in Genoa. And she adds: "The vehicle has placed a diaphragm between the hater and the object: often there is no awareness of doing harm and how much. For our part, we try to prevent prevention by visiting associations and schools: because when it comes to repression, the fact has already happened. The domino effect and emulation come into play. And the consequences for the victims are difficult to erase ”.

Everything is useful for reporting. Just a phone call to the numbers of the Postal Police to have clear indications on how to proceed. “You can produce videos, audio recordings, screenshots. And I want to reiterate to children and adults not to be afraid: we are here, with the professionalism of our operators constantly updated. We have psychologists available to help manage all aspects, even those related to the fear of possible retaliation ", concludes the manager.

The story of a lawyer

Support for victims of hatred offers also Lehda, an association that brings together 180 organizations representing people with disabilities throughout Lombardy and has a legal staff. And a lawyer was at the center of the episode told by the lawyer Giulia Grazioli: "The woman, targeted on social media in 2016 because she suffers from achondroplasia, sued, obtaining a conviction which also held up on appeal in January last ". In the trial, Lehda filed a civil party.

“We still receive few reports of hatred directed at people with disabilities - continues Grazioli - but you may mean that we do not get to know the facts. For this, I invite the victims to contact us: we advise on a non-profit basis, and we always make an out-of-court attempt, before going to court ".

The legislation exists but it is dated

“The laws - emphasizes Muscari - are there, but they clearly have to deal with the evolution of society. Today there is an overlap of virtual life with real life that was not found years ago ". The confirmation comes from Valentina Crestani, a researcher at the State University of Milan, engaged in a study activity on Italian and German regulatory texts focused precisely on the theme of disability: "Based on what I observe, I feel I can affirm that the 'sensitization 'has finally entered the common language, also because in recent years there has been a focus on inclusion. Of course, law 104 still speaks of 'handicapped people', and if we have to refer to the law we must mention it as it is. But the most recent additions show a different use of language ”. In short, she concludes, “the result of the efforts of these years has been seen. Previously, it was common for boys to give epithets that targeted physical and psychological conditions. Fortunately, epithets that are much less used today ”. The road seems the right one.

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