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HATE SPEECH ‘INOCULATION’
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In early 2012 Susan Benesch (human rights scholar, genocide prevention fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University) began working with Media Focus on Africa (MFA) to develop a media intervention that would promote peacebuilding and “inoculation” against inciting speech. For this purpose, they teamed up with the cast and crew of a Kenyan television comedy drama series, Vioja Mahakamani on KBC TV.
MFA presented the idea of using the popular series Vioja as a vehicle for these messages. The cast and producers of the show, who see the program as a way to not only entertain but also educate Kenyans, agreed to take part in the intervention. MFA and Benesch spent two days training the cast of Vioja on the subjects of hateful and offensive speech, inciting speech, and dangerous Speech.
The premise was that exposing audiences to information about incitement to violence will help inoculate them against it. In other words, by showing audiences 1) the political incentives for leaders that engage in inciting speech, 2) how speakers manipulate audiences in order to incite violence, 3) the consequences for individuals engaging in inciting speech or in violence, and 4) how love and forgiveness can serve as countermeasures to hateful and dangerous speech, the audience members will become more skeptical when they hear dangerous speech, more aware of the harm it can do, and more willing to accept personal responsibility for actions arising from inciting speech.
The purpose of this training was that they could use that information in two distinct ways:
1.To create and write the four episodes that constituted the intervention, with lessons about dangerous speech and incitement embedded in the narrative; and
2. To use their own popularity and influence to become agents of change, by spreading this knowledge beyond the context of the television show.
MFA and Benesch left it to the cast to determine how to incorporate the messages into the episodes’ storylines. This was in large part to ensure that the program felt natural to the audience and not something that had been imposed artificially and awkwardly by an outsider.
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