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The Roma community is the European Union’s (EU) largest ethnic minority, with a population of approximately six million residing in all EU member states.
According to the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, Roma ‘live in overwhelmingly poor conditions on the margins of society, and face extreme levels of social exclusion’.
These poor conditions equally relate to issues of education, employment, health and life expectancy, and demonstrate the gross disparity between Roma and the majority of EU citizens.
There are many analyses to be made as to the causes of poverty and exclusion of Roma, but the one commonly agreed cross-cutting issue is that of prejudice, namely anti-gypsyism.
Widespread discrimination against Roma has translated into cyberhate across the EU. In the context of increasing prominence of far right groups and political parties, and growing nationalistic and xenophobic discourses, recent years have seen a rising tide of hate speech against Roma.
Freedom From Hate
Five organizations from five Eastern European countries have come together for the Freedom From Hate project, in order to address the growing issue of hate speech against the Roma community and to initiate a dialogue with social media companies about this problem.
These countries have some of the highest proportions of Roma population in the EU. Roma representatives in the five countries have all identified online hate speech targeting their communities, especially their youth, as an increasing concern.
Figures show that almost half of those who have suffered online abuse are ‘discouraged from engaging in public debates’, according to the Eurobarometer survey on Media and Pluralism.
As well as limiting online participation of Roma, online hate speech also plays a significant role in normalizing anti-gypsyism among what is often a mainstream and majority user audience.
The Freedom From Hate project’s aim has been to develop specific approaches to combating anti-gypsyism and promoting public participation of Roma on the internet and social media. Supporting this is essential if Roma are to realize social and economic inclusion within the EU.
Monitoring and reporting tools are also important, but will not by themselves address this need. Counter-speech measures need to utilize the public participation of Roma themselves, in particular through social media platforms, so that we are not just blocking hate speech, but countering the underlying prejudices that produce it.
Freedom From Hate also aims to provide the learning from these campaigns to other organizations and Roma activists, in order to encourage more counter-speech campaigns across Europe. An external evaluation of all five campaigns is also available online.