February 24, 2011

Cyberhate: over-individual freedom or ordinary extremism?..

Today the global Internet network creates a parallel world in which around a quarter of the world population lives. The Internet has become an abode for dissidents and graphomaniacs, businessmen and politicians, terrorists and humanists, students and housewives.

It’s obvious that thanks to the phenomenon of Internet, together with individual psychology and mass psychology, a new branch of knowledge about a person has appeared – psychology of “over-individual state” in the center of which is “a person online”.

As opposed to “a person of crowd” the actions of “a person online” are personalized, are not related to a physical throng, collective identity, and to specific emotions of a collective sole.

But as opposed to “classical individualism”, “a person online” is a part of a huge vivid community, possesses hyper sensitivity and susceptibility, is anonymous, irrational and expressive. 

It is known that the crowd effect is able to turn modest “shopkeepers and heads of a desk” into inveterate radicals and pogrom-makers. The results of few sociological researches demonstrate that the factor of “cyber-over-individuality” often turns an undistinguished user into an extremist or just into an irresponsible virtual being with an overstated self-esteem.

A monitoring of several Ukrainian socio-political web-sites, held by the “Institute of human rights and prevention of extremism and xenophobia” (IHRPEX), has revealed interesting and poorly explored facts so far.

Fact #1

The function “comments” under the news reports and articles is used mainly not for the exchange of opinions, but for the demonstration of quite inappropriate emotions.

More than a half of the materials contain insulting comments, hate utterances, and provocative appeals.

About a half of these utterances are “hate messages”, these are the insults of an addressee, author or a player of the message. Another 20% of utterances are demonstrations of hate, the hate itself, not the persuasive criticism of the declared position; a little bit smaller percentage – insinuations about national, racial, and religious belonging and points of view.

All together, one fifth of the comments are mutual poignancies and straightforward insults between the users themselves.

Even in the articles and reports about economic subjects around 30% of comments contain insulting utterances to the address of the authors and players of the messages.

And taking into account all this, only 5% (!) of the general amount of the comments are related to the subject matter of the message.

Even if the beginning of any discussion goes quite rationally, but with the appearance of the first expressive comment – the fifth in succession on average – the further amount of the comments begins to grow in geometrical progression.

Fact #2

There are topics and themes on which the users are just unable to react “without foaming at the mouth”.

If the main players of the messages are representatives of foreign embassies, religious figures, representatives of not noble nationality, or when people talk about language, educational and Euro integration policy, Ukrainian-Russian collaboration or about outstanding historical characters – in these situations the amount of hate comments reaches 95% from the general number.

Fact #3

The main notional platforms in the Ukrainian Internet-space are formed according to the regional attribute and differ one from another mainly by different hate vectors.

The largest amount of cyberhate display towards the authors and players of the messages is observed among the users of political web sites with national-democratic focus. “Centrist” web sites are notable for the hate among the users-commentators as well.

Other peculiarities are characteristic for regional web sites.

For example, the comments on Lvov socio-political web sites fall from grace by tendentiousness and bias, “This is not possible, such as it is not possible ever”.

The stereotypes in the way of thinking of the users do not allow them perceiving figures, facts, and arguments – they have already formed their mind about a person or phenomenon. And if the presented material does not fit into certain framework it is simply being assaulted.

A different extreme is characteristic for the comments available on Donetsk web sites with socio-political focus: aggression to the address of “the orange” or population of Western Ukraine with the praise of all Russian at the same time. Any publication is tested on “Russianness” and aggression is directed towards “Banderovite-nationalists”.

Thereby Kiev web sites are a cockpit between “Western” and “Eastern” groupings of cyberhate.

Fact #4

Mass Internet-audiences are the most democratic ones, but at the same time are the most incapable to rational behavior and mutual respect for opinions.

The figures of cyberhate are considerably lower on those web sites which are being moderated effectively, where it’s required to register, or where commercial census is present – paid access to some pages, archives – or professional census, where professionals discuss only professional matters. 

In other words, the more statistically average the user is the more poisonous are the “cyber-slops” into which he needs to sink willing it or not.


All above-listed peculiarities may bring up a large number of “questions without answers” for the adherents of “online democracy” who are standing for making a decision on the basis of proposition and viewpoints analysis of the wide Internet-users audience.

And not only for them…

The politicians have already learnt how to use the results of this “psycho-alchemy”: They create their own “fifty cent armies” which organize cyber-obstructions for the competitors and dissidents. Progressive marketing specialists promote consumer goods for the users. And various extremists just make propaganda online.

The society itself has not been thinking about this phenomenon up to now.  

Meanwhile the Internet is becoming an “exercise machine for spinal cord” on which the same phenomena safely spin against which traditional social institutes counteract in real life with the aim of self-preservation and internal equilibrium sustentation.

The main problem of cyberhate, as a side and unwillingly recognized creation of the Internet, consists in this.

Neutralization of cyber-costs

What does prevent to evaluation adequately the pros and cons of the Internet?

On one side, this is a thoughtless identification of the Internet and freedom. I need to mention that nobody considers fast-food to be a synonym of the struggle against malnutrition.

On the other side is the fact that discussion of such kind of questions, one way or another, has to take place on the Internet. This adds to the discussion all the above described over-individual peculiarities of behavior of the process actors.

It results that it’s easier to discuss criminal code among criminals than to talk about Internet on the Internet…

In modern society certain individuals have to obey the rules framed by the society, and unions of people have to follow the establishments – rules for conducting mass meetings, requirements for activities of parties and organizations and so on. Therefore, “network characters”, logically, also have to stick to the framework which the society sees fit to be established for them.

That’s why the appearance of both restrictive “lifting gates” and regulating “traffic lights” online is just a matter of self-survival and time.

To my opinion, in order to prevent undesirable course of events, it’s necessary to adhere to such a line:

First of all, the immediate participants of the process – providers, administrators of social networks, web site editors, media-experts and social activists need to be the first ones to begin discussing these questions.

Secondly, the approach to solve this problem should not be global, otherwise it will be inconclusive. It should not be strictly national as well, otherwise it will result in “tightening the screws”. The approach should be pan-European.

And, thirdly, the basis for the beginning of the polemic may be the discussion of the Additional protocol to “The Council of Europe convention on cybercrime” concerning “The criminalization of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems”

Let me remind that Ukraine signed this Protocol and adhered to the Convention in 2006.

Alexander Feldman, “Ukrainskaya Pravda”