As the Equal Opportunities Officer at the CSH, Susanne Wampfler has already had to intervene in the past when such comments were made to other researchers and knows that these are not isolated cases. She also talks to other researchers about hate speech: "We observed, for example, that different aspects that do not fit the typical image of an astrophysics professor lead to negative remarks, like racist comments to researchers from abroad, sexist comments toward female researchers or doubting the expertise of younger researchers."
Where does hate speech begin?
Sophie Achermann, Executive Director of alliance F, the non-partisan umbrella organization of more than 100 women's organizations, and head of the "Stop Hate Speech" project, locates the origin of this phenomenon in the introduction of commenting options on social media and on the part of media companies: "There are certainly algorithms which encourage this, leading to more traffic and interaction on social media in particular. That's also financially attractive for social media ." However, it is difficult to define where hate speech begins and how much one has to tolerate. Sophie Achermann: "Basically, dealing with nasty comments is very subjective. Accordingly, the threshold at which an insult is no longer tolerable and so-called hate speech begins is different for all those affected. Relatively little is prohibited by law in Switzerland. That's a problem, especially in the area of sexism, for example."
So what can you do if you are affected by hate speech yourself? Sophie Achermann's advice: "Generally, I would recommend not stepping in yourself. A tip in this context: Temporarily hand off the social media channels to a person who will sift through the comments and save any criminally relevant ones. At the same time, it is also useful to mobilize the people around you to actively respond with counterspeech. Standing up to hate speech is an effective strategy but it still does not happen enough." For this purpose, alliance F has developed an algorithm as part of the "Stop Hate Speech" project: the Bot Dog. It is trained by volunteers to detect hate speech, which is then countered accordingly.
Taking a stand
Christian Althaus and Susanne Wampfler say that they are not intimidated by hate speech on the internet. Wampfler thinks it's important for hate speech to be addressed publicly, adding: "I would rather see the focus back on my research. On the other hand, I don't want to be silenced by such comments either, as that's precisely one of the goals of these comment writers."