The Czech Republic, rather a homogenous country, has been known to be rather harsh towards marginalized cultures and identities. In fact, during orientation week, it was one of the first cultural differences we were warned about, and it was a shock. After living in the Czech Republic the last four months, I’ve come to realize how prominent these issues are in multiple classes. Amongst the current Syrian refugee crisis, large and large newspapers such as DNES in the Czech Republic, have been reporting the crisis in a negative light, and amongst this hate-speech, Hate Free Culture has released a campaign calling out the issue of stereotyping and hate-speech.
In its campaign, Hate Free Culture transposes real comments from people in the Czech Republic onto three different marginalized groups: a Muslim family, a fuller-bodied woman, and a gay couple. Coupled with the nonchalance music (which also has a tinge of horror-story broken record sound to it) and the sound of typing, the campaign calls out the social media age’s contemporary shortcomings when it allows hateful people to produce hateful comments without immediate consequence.
According to Lukáš Houdek, the person behind the campaign, “the idea was first to show the real comments and the real people– that when you write a hate comment on Facebook or in an online discussion very often you don’t see the real person who is going to be hit by the comment.” Unfortunately, however, there is always someone at the other side.
Perhaps it is the homogenous nature of the country that creates an environment that “tolerates” this kind of online behavior more, or maybe even the lack of exposure to marginalized groups that makes people less empathetic. Whatever the reason may be, it is a jarring campaign nonetheless as the words transposed on the images are hurtful and brutish.
“Go to hell”
Screenshot taken by Tammy Hsu.
By taking a universalistpproach, the campaign emphasizes how easy it is to be a victim of such unfair critique. Using this kind of rhetoric, the campaign’s tagline is “Jsme v Tom Společně,” meaning, “we’re in this together.” To pin responsibility on those who have made hurtful comments. Furthermore, the campaign emphasizes every player in the game: from the ones writing the comments to the ones receiving them, Hate Free Culture adds a third element– the one who could receive them next.
Though there is still a long way to go regarding the acceptance of those who do not fit into the “normal” homogenous standards in the Czech Republic, or even beyond this scope in different countries, these issues are universal– anyone anywhere can be a target of hateful speech, which does not make it okay, it makes it a responsibility. The purpose of the advertisement hits a sharper nerve in that the comments are taken directly from Czech people, but the concept applies to anyone because its implications are so broad. We are responsible for our own actions and our own words, and the consequences these actions and words are associated with. As such, it is necessary to think before we speak, to understand the connotations of our words and the implications they may have.
In the social media age, it becomes far too easy to detach oneself from comment and person. But it is important to remember that these comments do affect people, and do have consequences, even if they are written from the anonymity of behind the screen. In a Radio Praha interview, Houdek recounts how the internet has specifically allowed for more hate: “I think it’s more a reflection of the internet. As we could see in our experiment with refugees from Syria [a video in which ordinary Czechs in a small town for the most part welcomed purported refugees], when people are face to face with some people they never treat them in the way they do on the internet. “I think we are not really very strong in communication online. It’s maybe because we just don’t have so much experience with it and we don’t really think about the impact of what we are writing.”
“Next time this could be someone you love”
“We’re in this together”
Screenshot taken by Tammy Hsu.
Hopefully in the future, more campaigns like this enter the Czech dialogue to address these social issues. Using dialogue to transcend the cultural boundary of stereotyping, the eventual acknowledgement of these hateful words as unproductive and unjust should help promote empathy towards others and acceptance within a culture. The Czech Republic is just one example of how social media can negatively impact a person, but the idea is just the same throughout the world: in order to exercise humanity, we must be tolerant of others and to do so, we have to start conversations such as this one that eventually move to enlightenment (hopefully).