In Côte D’Ivoire, We Raise the Red Card to Fight Online Hate Speech

Over the past decade, violence attributed to online hate speech has been increasing worldwide. In Côte d’Ivoire, this is no exception. In 2011, the country saw an explosion in the use of violent rhetoric towards various ethnic, racial, and gender-based groups. Concurrently, the country was also experiencing a mounting number of attacks against the same religious and ethnic groups, raising new concerns about the connection between incendiary speech online and violent acts offline. Between 2011 and 2018, hate speech further penetrated itself far and deep within Ivorian communities. Today, the situation is continuing to get much worse.

To combat this issue, Internews conducted an in-depth analysis of the country’s social media activity during the local elections in October 2018. This analysis highlighted the existence of many instances of hate speech and disinformation in Cote d’Ivoire. Six months later, the findings were validated when a wave of inter-communal violence, inflamed by the spread of hate speech on social media, spread across several regions in the country. Then, a little over a year later, hate speech took over the country’s main social media platform, Facebook. In the run-up to the October 2020 presidential elections, online political activists vied for power with insidious hate speech.

Prior to the elections, back in April and May 2019, concerns were confirmed when a wave of inter-communal violence spread across several regions, inflamed by the spread of hate speech on social media. This wave specifically refers to the ethnic violence that has shaken Côte d’Ivoire, particularly in the center of the country. The violence is often the result of conflicts between indigenous landowners and farmers from other regions. Traditional media gave little or no coverage to these incidents, leaving a vacuum open to rumors and provocations spread on Facebook. Even where legacy media tried to cover these topics, their credibility was often tarnished by perceived or actual political influence, and their ability to address political issues was limited by regulation. In fact, those points remain true today and many topics are only covered on social networks, where regulations are ineffectively applied.

Internews and key local partners used a multi-pronged approach to address this. First, Internews documented online and offline hate speech. Monitoring was done mainly on Facebook to understand the modus operandi, manifestations, and aggravating factors of online hate speech. A dedicated observatory of four members monitored a sample of 9,925 Facebook profiles, groups, and pages. This observatory has produced from September 2020 to January 2022, 67 weekly reports which demonstrated that political issues were largely responsible for the increase in instances of hate speech. They also showed that Facebook pages were used more to spread hate and in times of elections, social media profiles were most prevalent over traditional media streams. The reports further revealed that when women were highlighted in the news focusing on political, social, cultural issues, sexist hate speech increased.

Second, Internews trained young people, who are heavy users of social media, and gave them proper tools to combat hate speech. In July and August 2020, several schools in Abidjan (Abobo) and Grand-Bassam (in the south of the country) received media literacy training, focused on online hate speech and its effects. They were asked to translate what they had learned into drawings and these very drawings were refined by cartoonists. These cartoons are now used for mass awareness.

Third, Internews targeted political actors in the fight against hate speech in Côte d’Ivoire, as the political class is one of the main sources of hate speech and fake news in the country. Internews undertook a national awareness campaign in May-June 2021, to address the population and local political leaders. They were trained to recognize hate speech, its consequences, and its dangers to make them more responsible in their positions and public speeches.

Internews designed media content for radio, print, and online media, based on the reports produced each week by the hate speech observatory.

Carton Rouge, a weekly 10-minute radio and web column, is part of this content. The goal of the Carton Rouge program is to discuss the types of hate speech that are observed throughout the week. The show serves to inform and raise awareness about the consequences of hate speech. Victims of hate speech, web activists, artists, political actors, psychologists, representatives of associations, authority figures as traditional chiefs, are invited to contribute and give their experiences and advice. By listening to the Carton Rouge column, listeners are alerted to instances of hate speech and can get more information via the Internews Civilia Facebook page. This format makes it possible to offer an attractive radio program that is suitable for broadcasting during prime listening hour. The program is broadcast over a year on Radio de la Paix (which broadcasts in 24 cities in the country), as well as on Radio Al Bayane (the most listened to radio) and in a network of about 20 partner radios spread over the whole territory. The column is also broadcasted on Facebook in video format. Debates have also been organized in the regions by the radio partners.

Key observations from the weekly report was also shared via short videos on the Internews’ led Civilia Facebook page and on the social media pages of the African Media Institute (IAM) and Police Secours, partners with over 439,000 subscribers. Also, each week, a press release was written and spread (on average 30 times a month) thanks to a network of print and online journalists.

The students’ fine-tuned drawings were used to convey messages about the dangers of online hate speech and the need to fight against it. They have been disseminated through social media partners, community radio partners, and civil society organizations (CSOs). Outreach also took the form of campaigns. In partnership with five CSOs, 25 victims of hate speech shared their unfortunate experiences on Facebook. CSOs then made a plea to encourage the fight against all types of hate speech. Spread across the main regions of the country, the involvement of these CSOs made it possible to reach a large part of the offline population. Moreover, the campaign included a phase on social media (broadcasting of video testimonies) as well as interactive radio programs and a press conference. This was done in collaboration with CSOs focusing on the country-wide fight against hate speech.

This synergy of actions has enabled Internews to mobilize, raise awareness and engage 225 civil society organizations, local and national political actors, and journalists in the fight against hate speech. In total, 527 productions (radio, live debates on Facebook video, press releases) have been effectively produced and broadcast. On social media, the productions reached more than 5.3 million people via the Internews Civilia, African Media Institute (IAM), and Police Secours Facebook pages. The campaign with the CSOs reached 380,000 people and generated more than 10,000 exchanges.

As a result of these initiatives, there has been an increase in the level of public awareness of the dangers of hate speech. Many Ivorians are reacting by reporting hateful content on Facebook using the designated feature, as revealed in a survey conducted by our local radio and CSO partners.

The number of press release coverages also demonstrates a growing interest among journalists on the issue of hate speech. Ivorian journalists are eager to participate as hate speech and misinformation directly affect their credibility. Furthermore, through the debates conducted by radio partners and the discussions sparked by the publication of awareness-raising cartoons by our partners, Internews Côte d’Ivoire has helped to encourage debate locally and on a national scale

In Cote d’Ivoire, Internews runs the media component of the Political Transition and Inclusion project, funded by USAID.