This article is written by Jürgen Kaiser, Head of the NEUSTART Social Work Department
Today, the polarisation of societal debates, differences and tensions within society as well as prejudices are increasingly taking place on social media, in places under the protection of presumed anonymity. Legislation has responded with an adaptation of the provision of Section 283 of the Criminal Code (StGB; incitement of hatred) which has resulted in an increase in convictions concerning hate speech.
NEUSTART Bayern gGmbH in cooperation with Verein NEUSTART and in collaboration with the judiciary (state prosecutors and judges) has developed a rational and socially constructive response to the current challenge in terms of hate crime as part of the Austrian probation service: The “Dialogue instead of hate” programme aims to sensitise people to discrimination, raise awareness for injustice and lead to reflection and consequently a change in behaviour.
The intervention programme aims to provide state prosecutor offices and courts an effective and specifically deterrent instrument for handling incitement. The programme covers topics such as clarification of the norm, processing of the offence, raising of awareness, understanding and dialogue. The reflection with social workers in direct support but also, if applicable, with experts for various thematic areas of incitement, has a lasting and specifically deterrent effect.
Goals of the programme regarding clients
- Clients are familiar with and respect the statutory standards and limits with regard to discrimination
- Clients analyse the topic of discrimination on a theoretical and personal level and reflect on their behaviour
- Clients develop a sensitivity for the manner and effect of expressing an opinion
- It is not about changing attitudes but about ensuring that future behaviour is compliant with criminal law
- When dealing with social media, clients know the effects of their actions and the legal situation
Modules of the programme
- Clarification of the norm – Information about instruction/obligation, explanation of the legal norm and preventive information about the law
- Media expertise focusing on social media
- Processing of the offence to prevent relapse
- Discourse expertise: expressing criticism without using derogative language
- Change of perspective – Sensitisation and raising awareness for the effects on victims and victim groups
- Introduction of the victim perspective through films, experts and other didactic possibilities
- Discrimination – Awareness for negative discrimination, the influencing parameter of the group
- If applicable, contact to establishments (for instance, refugee support) to highlight the living situation of the victims
The programme is carried out by specially trained probation officers. This far, the social integration of the clients is good; only a very small group of participants of the programme are assessed as socially isolated. Migrants and refugees are the almost exclusive target of discrimination. The main medium of incitement is Facebook. The modules are worked through in a mix of individual setting and group setting. For instance, in all cases completed up to now, the offence was processed in an individual setting. Particularly the modules “media expertise”, “discourse expertise” and “awareness for discrimination” proved to be easily practicable in a group setting. The programme is very well received among referrers, the press and by experts and is experienced as a suitable response to the referred offences.
The program was accompanied by evaluative research by the University of Graz. The study provides more in-depth insights into the nature of the cases, offences, clients and above all includes feedback from the clients. On the one hand, results indicate a largely positive acceptance of the programme by the clients and on the other, a change in attitude and/or a change in behaviour respectively in the sense of acceptance of the legal norm, reflection of own behaviour and use of social media with higher awareness and respect.
In Austria, probation is provided by NEUSTART, a private non-profit organisation. NEUSTART is offering various justice-connected services for victims and offenders like VOM, unpaid work, electronic monitoring etc.