“When you detect a hateful comment, you can't resist looking immediately into another”.
Andrei and Crina have been worked as expert consultants with Internews to develop the IOM Moldova's report, they shared with IOM Moldova their professional experience.
“In the hate speech field, I have learned not to let myself be influenced and not take everything close to heart.”
“I found out about this report in January 2023. Internews was looking for people who could work on this report. I was selected because I had experience in monitoring social media platforms and data collection. I am doing this permanently. This is my job, monitoring social media non-stop. I was immediately interested when I was told about this IOM Moldova-Internews project. Also, I wanted to see new methods of data collection and reporting. I was trained by Internews and received all the necessary tools.
The first thing I did in the morning was to check all the Telegram channels I subscribed to. While I was working on this report, there were about 40 relevant channels on Telegram. I needed to check and take note of what’s in the news and what was shared in the last 24 hours. Then, I monitored Facebook groups. After lunchtime, I started systematically analyzing all the notes and information I have collected from these platforms. In the evening, together with the Internews team, we discussed and presented the observations and conclusions we had.
The most offensive comments for me were those which targeted the Ukrainian refugees. They are suffering, they left their whole life in Ukraine, and we don’t know when this war will end. Considering that they have been forced to flee their country, it was hard for me to understand why people are spreading hate messages towards them. Some comments were very demeaning.
When you read hate speech and negative comments all day long, it affects you. It's hard to accept that people can be so aggressive, mean and lacking in compassion for those who suffer. Having already had experience in this field, I have learned not to let myself be influenced and not take everything close to heart.
One of the hate campaigns we noticed while working on this report was the spread of negative and fake news about refugees who are not accepted in the European Union. There were many messages saying that refugees are encouraged and paid by the EU to stay in Moldova. We have noticed some elements from which it can be assumed that these hate campaigns were premeditated with a well-defined plan to affect and influence the integration of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. The purpose of these campaigns was to create a disagreeable profile of the Ukrainian refugees and to generate conflicts among them and the host communities. Mostly, this was observed in Russian language media channels. The number of these hate comments was significantly higher during the first months of the war. Now, we have observed that the number is lower.
I think it is very important to share more information about the help given to both refugees and host communities. There is misconception that Ukrainians are receiving stolen aid from the Moldovans, which is wrong. People think that by helping refugees we will make a poorer country. That is why it is necessary to share information about donors, ongoing projects in the country, and the positive consequences of these activities.
My advice to those who are victims of misconduct on the web is to assess the alert level and how real the danger is. If you receive certain insults, you should not draw their attention, but if you feel you received a direct attack and you are in danger, then the only and most important advice is to contact the competent authorities to defend your security”.
“Social media listening is a non-stop activity.”
“I was very excited and honored to be part of the Internews team, even if it was a short collaboration. I have not had the opportunity to work on this narrow field of hate speech analysis before, but as a journalist I have been in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict in 2014 and I fully understand what Ukrainian refugees are going through. I was at the border when the wave of refugees arrived, and I noticed how our society was already starting to have sometimes not so nice feelings towards refugees.
Working on this report was an opportunity for me to get the pulse of society, to know that I can contribute to making external partners, and other organizations understand what is happening in Moldovan society.
Social media listening is a non-stop activity, because when you detect a hateful comment, you can't resist looking immediately into another related group and in another group again where you find more and more other hate comments. There was an incident that I told my colleagues in the Internews central office. It is a series of cruel and dehumanizing comments posted on Telegram by a group against all children in Ukraine. As a journalist who has worked 14 years in crime, perhaps it shouldn't have affected me so much, but I felt helpless to identify and change these people.
Someone is probably using information technology to promote propaganda. Somehow it fascinates me, albeit certainly in a negative way, how well propaganda works and how well structured this form of manipulation of society is. There are groups on social media platforms with thousands of people posting fake news, and I don't understand how some people have so much free time to read so many comments. I got the feeling that by promoting disinformation and hate speech against refugees it is somehow trying to drive Moldovans against Ukrainians and vice versa. The report is clear in saying that what was monitored for a short period of time does not reflect Moldovan society.
Knowing and having many friends in Ukraine made me feel bad, it is very difficult to read comments like that. What hurts me the most is our powerlessness against propaganda and disinformation.
I think that a mitigating measure is to inform and inform society again! Someone should take responsibility in Moldova to inform society correctly with systematic campaigns, as for example it was during the Covid-19 pandemic. We should go outside the box, use the idea of volunteering to go to people to explain the situation, that humanitarian aid is not taken out of your mother's mouth and given to a refugee. And maybe such campaigns and accurate information could somehow cover this huge wave of disinformation that is out there.
If you are victim of misconduct on the web, there is no need to get into social media discussions with someone because you don't really know who you're dealing with. But you need to ask for help, report the seriousness of the case to the competent authorities. If you stay silent, nothing will change. Only by informing about what is happening in certain groups or websites we could change something for the better.