The training programmes consisted of four sessions. During the first session, participants were given an introduction on hate speech and its sociological background. In the second session, participants were taught about factors that contributed to the spread of hate speech and its social impact.
When hate speech was expressed, it could lead to division among communities and to damage to property and people. Continuous harm, insult, threat and hate speech could create an environment for people to carry out organised crime.
Hate speech leads to degrading people, physical assault, damage to property and places of worship, destruction of livelihoods and disruption of business activities. Modes in which hate speech is spread are through meetings, media, small group discussions, TV, radio, newspapers, posters, gossip, stickers and social media.
The third session was on social media. The participants were taught about the rapid increase of internet users, algorithms and google cookies. The speakers used examples to show instances where expressions of hate speech on social media lead to violence.
One such example was in Myanmar, where military leaders used social media to slander and demonize the Rohingya Muslim minority ahead of and during a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Sri Lanka has similarly seen vigilantism inspired by rumours spread online targeting the Muslim minority. During a spate of violence in March 2018, the government blocked access to Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as the messaging app Viber for a week saying that Facebook had not been sufficiently responsive during the emergency.
Mr. M. Shamsudeen, a Moulavi from Polonnaruwa, said, “We learned that hate speech is a big problem in society. We should talk about hate speech and its adverse effects openly. As religious leaders we should initiate a dialogue about it at our religious places and create awareness by teaching people to prevent hate speech.”
Mangala Wijenayake, a local government official from Badulla, said, “We all have different identities. We all come from unique cultures. Therefore we should be careful not to hurt anyone. The media create a lot of hate speech. There is freedom of speech but we should not take undue advantage of it. We should stop the spread of hate speech by creating a dialogue about this issue around Sri Lanka. We should start by teaching this to our children at schools.”