Activities - Why is there hate speech content out there?

Those involved in the creation or promotion of hate speech often do so for a variety of reasons. As part as our effort to hack online hate speech, we consider important to understand the reasons behind the dissemination of hateful messages, either by creating or sharing them. This will allow us to develop strategies to redirect them to be less harmful.

Below you can find two activities to explore with students the variety of reasons why hate speech is created and begin to consider how counter-narratives can be used to reduce the spread of hate speech content. With SELMA we want to empower children and young people to become agents of change in their offline and online communities. We don't aim to teach them what is "good" or "bad" online behaviour, but rather to enable them to critically and creatively engage with the problem of online hate speech and its possible solutions.

The activities are a preview of the SELMA Toolkit, a collection of principles, methods and practices to work on online hate speech with 11-to-16-year-old teenagers, which will be launched this spring on this same website.


Media analysis activity


The SELMA project short hate speech definition is:
"Any online content targeting someone's core characteristics with the purpose of spreading hate, threatening or provoking violence against them."

Remind participants about how our experiences, learning and role models around us build up stereotypes and prejudices in our own minds about ourselves and others.

Recognising and understanding these prejudices is very important. Firstly, it allows us to understand that having prejudices is normal; our brains' development of representativeness heuristics is a natural function designed to help the brain cope with the demands of understanding everything we experience. Acknowledging this can allow greater objectivity and fewer feelings of guilt or shame around having prejudiced thoughts. Secondly, it increases our awareness of both our own and others' prejudices, which makes it easier to examine, discuss and challenge such concepts.

By questioning the reasons behind why our own prejudices have formed and how/when they might be displayed, the opportunity to question the motivations of others' display of prejudice becomes available. This section focuses on examples of prejudice in mass media, and the possible motivations behind them.

Questions to ask

  • Do individuals alone show prejudice? What other groups show prejudice?
  • Where have you seen displays of prejudice by these groups?
  • Is there prejudice in the media? By whom, and what form does it take?
  • Have you ever seen a headline about a protected characteristic that shocked/angered/upset/pleased/humoured you?
    • Why did it make you feel this way?
    • Do you think it constitutes hate speech? Why/why not?
  • What do you think might motivate people/groups to post or publish this type of content?

Main Activity

In small groups, participants will consider the motivations of individuals and of groups (be they social groups, organisations, companies or another type). Using sticky notes, ask participants to write down as many different reasons as to why someone might do something/say something online.

Their lists might include reasons such as:

  • To advertise/sell you something
  • For personal gain (e.g. financial, reputational, career, etc.)
  • To reach out/connect with others
  • To compliment/praise/encourage someone
  • To make them feel positive emotions
  • To make others feel positive emotions
  • To criticise/attack someone
  • To make them feel negative emotions
  • To make others feel negative emotions
  • To defend someone/something
  • To give an opinion/point of view
  • To convince/persuade others
  • To state a fact
  • To signpost/link to information
  • To raise awareness/warn people
  • To spread news
  • To spread false or misleading information (eg. fake news)
  • To be humorous/make others laugh
  • To gain attention to themselves or a cause
  • To enhance their reputation
  • To build a following/audience
  • To deflect attention
  • To ask/answer questions

Encourage them to think of as many different scenarios as possible. At this stage it doesn't matter if the motivations/reasons are viewed as positive or negative. Collect these suggestions in one place for both individuals and groups e.g. a large piece of paper for individuals, a large piece of paper for groups.

Now ask participants to consider all the possible motivations behind why an individual or group may create/publish/share hate speech. Ask them to remove the sticky notes from their lists that no longer apply, or add any new ones that they hadn't considered before.

Discuss the motivations they have listed; do they think hate speech is motivated by one factor or more?

What emotions is the author trying to elicit (e.g. fear, anger, outrage, etc.)?

What action(s) do you think they might want you to take as a result of reading their statement?

Using the Media Analysis slides, show participants the first statement. Explain that the blank space refers to a protected characteristic group.

Media Analysis slides - 1

Ask them to define:

  • The possible author
  • The motive(s) behind making the statement
  • The emotions they felt upon reading the statement
  • The emotions the author was trying to elicit
  • The action the author was trying to encourage

Discuss as a group. Encourage participants to explain why the felt the way they did about the statement. Did anyone feel differently? Why? Now imagine that you are in the group that the blank statement refers to, how do the statements make you feel?


Reading Between the Lines

Using the Media Analysis slides, ask participants to work in pairs/small groups to choose three of the headlines/statements. (These have been drawn from real life examples of online hate and prejudice from both mass media and social media, with the protected characteristic removed).

Media Analysis slides - 3 slides

For each one, ask participants to:

  1. Guess which protected characteristic may have been targeted.
  2. State which emotion they felt when reading the statement, and why.
  3. Decide the possible author (e.g. newspaper, political group, individual.)
  4. List the possible motives for the author posting/publishing the statement.
  5. What emotion the author was trying to elicit. Did it match their initial feeling? Why/why not?
  6. What do you think the author wants you to do as a result of reading their statement?


Encourage participants to fill in the blank in each statement with a missing word that can shift the tone of the statement from negative to positive. They can also modify the headline/statement if needed (e.g. _______ stealing our jobs →  Nobody  stealing our jobs! Stop being paranoid!)

Outcome criteria

  • Recognise the emotions that may be elicited by online hate and prejudice through mass media and social media online.
  • Identify possible motives used by the author to elicit emotions and/or action

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Theatre piece


You can introduce this activity to your students. It is a fun and engaging way for them and their classmates to explore the reasons why people create and/or sustain hate speech.

Note: Works best with a group of at least 10 students.

A. Theatre scenarios

What you will need:

Theme 2 - PEER - Theatre scenarios-1



  • Begin by reminding students that hate speech is speech that targets individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their protected characteristics (such as race or nationality, religious belief, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity). Hate speech enables or encourages discrimination and violence against individuals with protected characteristics and certain forms of hate speech are illegal.
  • Explain to students that as part of efforts to address hate speech, they are going to be participating in an activity designed to encourage reflection on why people might use or sustain hate speech.
  • It's important that students feel safe, comfortable and warmed up before participating in an activity. Check out our handy ‘How to' guide for general recommendations on how to intro your Peer Mentoring activities.


  1. Ask four students to volunteer to act out four individual theatre scenarios.
  2. Once you have your four volunteers, give them each their theatre scenario (keep the follow-up questions slide for each scenario to yourself). The activity works best if the four students are lined up next to each other and each scenario is acted out in turn, for around 30 seconds each. Explain that the scenarios are simple, and it's entirely up to the actors how elaborate to make the theatre piece. Encourage students to get creative! Can they create some props?
  3. The rest of the students will form the audience. Ask them to divide themselves into groups. The size and number of groups is completely up to you. Explain to the audience that they will be given 5 minutes to answer a set of questions after each scenario, as a group.
  4. After each scenario is acted out, present the audience with the corresponding ‘Follow-up questions' slide.
  5. If you don't have access to a screen, you might want to print out the slide and hang it up somewhere. Give the teams in the audience 5 minutes to work through the follow-up questions and then come back together as a whole group to discuss your answers. While students are working through the questions, you should walk around the room to see if they have any questions. Use the below prompts to support students who might be unclear about some of the questions or who are stuck. You can also use the prompts when discussing as a whole group at the end of the activity, to stimulate more ideas and contributions from students.
  6. Once you have completed the activity (acted out all four scenarios and completed the follow-up questions work), close the activity with the ‘Key take-aways' to make sure that students really take away the most important lessons from this activity. 

Prompts for each scenario:

Scenario 1:

  1. How do you think a Xenovian reading Kelsie's post would feel? Do they think they would feel welcome in Kelsie's country?
  2. Do you think Kelsie was feeling sad? angry? afraid? Why do you think that?
  3. (Depending on answer to 2 above), why do you think someone might feel angry towards or afraid of a group of individuals coming to their country from elsewhere?

Scenario 2:

  1. Do you think it was because Sam felt convinced by Kelsie's argument? Do you think Sam wanted to befriend Kelsie? Or maybe he didn't really think very much about it at all?
  2. Do you think passively ‘liking' something makes any impact? After all - you're not the one who has written the offensive post. If you think it does make an impact to passively like something offensive, what impact do you think it makes?

Scenario 3:

  1. Based on their message, what do you think they are trying to get out of Sam? Do you think it's just a friendly chat they want?
  2. Of all the people online, why do you think they singled out Sam to contact? Think back to what Sam did in the previous scenario. (Make sure students understand that Sam was contacted because he ‘liked' Kelsie's post).
  3. What are you basing your advice on? What if Sam went for the chat just to learn more about Xenov-hate, and didn't make any promises? If you think that Sam should not continue to engage with this person, do you think it's enough to ignore them, or should Sam report them?

Scenario 4:

  1. What message do you think the post sends to people seeing it?
  2. An election is round the corner, what do you think Ms Green might gain from sharing this post?
  3. How do you think it will make them feel about the future of their country, and how do you think it would make them feel towards Ms Green?
  4. If you think there is a difference between Ms Green and Sam posting this kind of post, why do you think there is a difference? Do you think politicians have a special responsibility not to use hateful speech? Why or why not?

Key take-aways:

  • People use hate speech with different motivations. Some may be afraid of another group (the "out-group") or feel a sense of anger about a perceived injustice which they project onto another group. They may also do this to form part of an "in-group" that uses similar hate speech, which gives them a sense of security.
  • Some people actively use hate speech (like Kelsie), and others may passively support it or do nothing to discourage it (like Sam). Whilst actively using hate speech is clearly always wrong, passive support also has serious consequences - as Sam discovered when he was contacted by the Xenov-Hate admin. Hate is spread through a combination of people actively using it and others passively accepting or not challenging it.
  • Hate speech always has serious consequences, but the words of some individuals, such as politicians, may be particularly serious, because of the influence they have over wider society.

B. Theatre scenarios: Bringing it all together

What you will need:

Theme 2 - PEER - Theatre activity_ Bringing it all together-1



  • Remind students that they have just watched and discussed four scenarios.
  • Explain how, in this theatre activity, you have thought about each case as a relatively isolated scenario.
  • However, with some further reflection, it's possible to see connections between the scenarios.
  • Explain that in this next activity, you will be thinking about the connections between the scenarios.


  1. Explain that groups should remain seated as they were. Ask the acting volunteers to join the groups in order to participate in the activity.
  2. Make sure that each group has the resources described in the ‘What you will need' section above.
  3. Explain to the groups that they will have 5 minutes to think about how each apparently isolated scenario could connect to another one, using the arrows and printed graphics.
  4. Use the below prompts to stimulate discussion:
  • Look at Sam and Ms Green for example, do you think there could be any connection between their behaviour?
  • What or who might Xenov-Hate be influenced by?
  • Is Ms Green reacting to speech by someone like Kelsie, or influencing her, or is it a bit of both?
  1. While students are working through the questions, you should walk around the room to see if they have any questions. Use the above prompts to support students who might be unclear about the activity or who are stuck.
  2. Once you have completed the activity (including the whole group discussion), close the activity with the ‘Key take-aways' to make sure that students really take away the most important lessons from this activity.  

Key take-aways:

  • Individual cases of hate speech may seem harmless, but they form part of a bigger picture and have a ripple effect.
  • Hateful words and behaviour of influential people legitimise hateful words and behaviour by individuals or groups.
  • Groups promoting hatred are formed of individuals with a variety of motivations and are sometimes legitimised by powerful people with their own motivations. Be aware of this larger picture when you encounter individual instances of hate speech.

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