The bloody war of words is being fought without mercy! Social media soldiers are dismantling one another ruthlessly! The one who provoke the most reaction is hailed as a warrior and new recruits continue to emulate and escalate bellicose rhetoric.

Lethal words are incessantly murmured, opinions imposed, and ideologies ensnared with fact and falsehood to forge a monolithic notion of Ethiopianness. What I find dangerous is the temperament of those who abide by such an interpretation of identity – as stale and stagnant – coupled with a divine mandate to proselytize the non-Ethiopians (anyone who disagrees). The divine mandate lends the “enlightened” the right to deem inadequate those with different interpretations of unfolding reality, undeserving of their 2.0 version Ethiopianness they so cleverly moulded. What I find fascinating is the power entrenched in words, the deception that lies behind seemingly rational and persuasive arguments that subliminally nurture suspicion and hostility which infest our everyday reality. There is a famous saying in Amharic which goes: “you can only reap the harvest of the seeds you’ve planted”. So, what’s the cause of the decimation of the “Ethiopian social values”?  What is the driving force that’s dismantling the age-old social fabric? Why are we gathering ripe crop from the fields of hatred?

Nockleby defines hate speech as a “particular form of offensive language that makes use of stereotypes to express an ideology of hate…. Any communication that dispersonages a person groups on the basis of some characteristics such as race, colour, ethnicity, gender, religion or other characteristic”. There are various in-depth studies which associate the use of hate speech with well known stereotypes to defame an individual or a group. If we go through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram feeds, depending on who we follow (prevalently those that ascribe to our political siding), we can easily identify the stereotype associated to the 280-character long tweet or other posts. There is an eery similarity of the language, appellation, perception, analogy, and juxtaposition that directly/indirectly conveys hate speech. The currency of social media soldiers is emotive value; they stomp on fact and sensationalize each atrocity to incite reaction, claiming the reality as their own narrow interpretations. The hate embedded in the messages, which lack contextual setting, are obscured by their intent to respond to a higher “divine” call, quickly emboldened by any contact with opposing views. An outburst of violent speech follows, entertained by soldiers of the same army. But who is leading the social media army?

Renowned political figures spew inflammatory rhetoric during political campaigns to manipulate public perception. They use social media as a playground to blatantly unveil their fears by engaging in rhetoric that stigmatizes, demoralizes or marginalizes the “other”. Their favourite tool is a discourse that depicts “others” as wrong, belligerent, evil, deviant, inferior, less-Ethiopian. The underlying intent is to unlock the permission for the general public to flagrantly hate the “other” and further legitimate hate crimes. While all political speech on social media platforms aim to condition public action, the call to citizens to identify less-Ethiopians, dissidents, met with a culture of impunity and the fetishization of violence as a form of reprimand, is a conspicuous call for a purge. Political hate speech must be examined if it becomes the element of daily political discourse veiled by claims of striving for the “greater good” while disseminating suspicions and mistrust among a society. The normalization of hate speech will hinder our inhibitions to identify when hateful political rhetoric morphs to mobilize members of the public to commit hate crimes against the “others”.

If the general public is called upon to take law enforcement into their hands and punish the culprits, what standards and moral values are they expected to uphold? The anonymity afforded by the Internet has exposed how social media soldiers effortlessly express hate and harassment beyond the realms of law enforcement. Conversely, there is a moral panic over the decimated Ethiopian values, and the imposition of such loss to individuals rather than the collective. The same forces that are dismantling the social fabric are accusing us of neglecting Ethiopian virtues and values and resorting to individualism. Uninhibited expression of hate has resulted in short clips on social media of civilians being battered to death, harassed, abused, threatened without any reaction from bystanders. A video of a lifeless body abandoned in the middle of a highway has provoked social media outrage but the act itself was a result of the general public taking matters into their own hands and punishing dissidents.

To better understand the hate-related victimization I think we should ask ourselves why political figures never encourage us to trust one another, to love our enemies, to use peaceful approaches to resist belligerence. Why don’t political elites encourage the general public to form horizontal alliances not solely hierarchical patronage systems across ethnic lines?

The noise that’s perpetrated by political figures and social media soldiers is inhibiting us from listening to experiences we shared with one another. We are held captive by fear of existential threats while the seed of mistrust and apprehension keeps sprawling roots.

Let’s be mindful of our own words, how much of the content is a product of our experience and how much of it is iteration stemming from political elites and social media soldiers? How candid are we with our everyday reality, with the people that we’ve encountered, the experiences shared with one another? Are we deceiving our own reality to fit the inflammatory rhetoric fettered by fear and bias?

Let’s just be mindful with our words and regain control of our perception.


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