author: Vane Trajkov, journalist
"Do not only publish, pay attention to the comments on social networks after posting the information as well, because they will fall into the background, and the excessive freedom of speech will rise to the surface, with many offensive comments and hate speech that can cause huge consequences. The consequences will be even more devastating if the information is incomplete, unsupported by facts and arguments." This is what the teacher from one school underlined, after some media reposted and published a video created by minors and posted on social networks, which shows the "reckless" move of a 12-year-old boy, a pupil with a disability. This immediately caused an avalanche of reactions, curses and calls for lynching, due to which the authorities had to intervene to "save" the boy, who was otherwise from a socially vulnerable family and is part of the inclusive educational process. The comments on the social networks went so far as to discriminate on religious grounds, because the boy was from a non-majority community, and his identity as a minor was not protected at all.
Some of the media, in an attempt to be exclusive and gain more readers, without priory verifying the facts by the institutions, reposted the video, publishing it with bombastic headlines. In doing so, they made a big mistake. The consequence was anger among the readers, who immediately started condemning, without even knowing what was really happening before and after the "reckless gesture" of the boy. It was later revealed that the boy had been manipulated by his friends who, in an attempt to present themselves as "bosses" on Facebook, abused his disability. In the avalanche of reactions, especially on social networks, the child was stigmatized, judged and verbally lynched, due to which he had to stay at home for a while despite the efforts of the institutions to include him in the educational system.
From a child's play, to an unprofessional approach of the media, up to the intervention of the authorities and the complete withdrawal of the student, primarily due to hate speech in the comments on social networks. The attempts of some of the citizens who, through their comments, tried to point out that the truth about the case should be revealed, were in vain, and they themselves became the target of labelling on all grounds, because they allegedly defended the reckless gesture of the student.
The media oftentimes "exploit" posts on social networks and, according to the "copy paste" principle, spread them with the speed of light, without even double-checking them against at least two sources, as required by journalistic rules and standards. Thus, the unverified and incomplete publications, packaged in the form of a journalistic product, leave room to provoke arbitrary statements, vulgar jargon, and presence of hate speech, while at the same time abusing the role of the media themselves.
"The media must play a key role not only in informing, but also in suppressing hate speech, discrimination, stereotypes. We have comments and labelling, but we do not have fact-based information. Everyone can say something about everyone, but no one will answer for that. In order to improve the situation in terms of literacy, culture of speech, expression and writing, we need media literacy at all levels", said Jasmina Mironski, a long-time journalist.
The case of the published video, which was first found on social networks and then reposted by the media, raises the question of to the extent and manner to which schools work on media literacy, educating students about the culture of expression and the possible consequences of publishing incomplete information or videos that do not reflect the truth or respect diversity in the pursuit of inclusion of all persons in society. It is obvious that the whole educational system fails in that segment, which, at the very least, should be a pillar not only for scientific achievements, but also for nurturing ethical, moral and cultural values.
"Today we are witnessing things that are inappropriate for young people. Schools have become infamous as centers of hate speech, discrimination, stereotypes. When this is already present, we should not waste time, but take concrete steps that will bring results in the future. Close cooperation with the media and educational institutions is needed. Students must learn what professional information is and what it looks like, so that young people would not be exposed to misperceptions. Reforms in the education system to include the media are needed. School education should create content for inclusion and acceptance of diversity", said Professor Naser Miftari at a recent Council of Media Ethics debate on "The Role of Media and Education in Addressing Hate Speech and Discrimination."
Education is important for the progress of civilization and improvement of the democratic environment. Therefore, there is still controversy as to how much media literacy should be included in the school curricula and to what extent. Some are considering whether it should be part of a compulsory course, or an integral part of all curricula, even in the natural sciences. Media expert Snezana Trpevska believes that media literacy should be part of the overall education system at all levels. In this way, a culture of expression, based on evidence and arguments, would be acquired, which would prevent the publication of superficial information that can cause dire consequences. Only media literate citizens will know how to assess the importance of certain published news, to discover the background and to have a critical approach in this respect.
"The model that has proven to be the most effective in the world is infusing that content into various subjects in the educational programs. We need to introduce grassroots changes in the system", said Snezana Trpevska.
I wonder if there were critical and media-savvy citizens, whether the 12-year-old boy with a disability would have been condemned for the gesture he made, encouraged and manipulated by his peers. Of course, journalists are the ones who should channel the news and information, which should be complete, relevant and supported. Media are expected to strongly advocate for the verification of all and any information and prevent the spread of hate speech not only in their texts and headlines, but also in the comments section of the published news, since freedom of expression should not be used for lynching, condemnation, labelling, it should be rather used for an argument-driven debate by respecting cultural civilization values of understanding and valuing diversity.