What Citizen Scientists can do against visual hate

Facebook was one of the first social platforms to go online on 4 February 2004. Youtube was founded a year later in 2005, and Twitter has been around since 2006. As usage data for Switzerland show, it is hard to imagine our professional and private lives without them (Latzer et al 2021). Social media were associated with the hope that as many people as possible could network quickly and easily and exchange views on topics and positions (e.g. Park and Perry, 2008). However, these platforms are also a place where – mostly anonymously – hate can be spread on a large scale.

Hate speech includes all statements that disparage, denigrate or even threaten social groups or members of social groups on the basis of a characteristic (cf. Stahel et al. 2021, p.5). This includes celebrities, athletes, scientists, people of colour, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, but also people with certain attitudes or vaccination status. Some examples: At the beginning of the year, Sanija Ameti, co-president of Operation Libero, made public on her social media channels how often she is attacked online. In September 2022, the then Zurich cantonal councillor Sarah Akanji announced that she would not run for re-election. The main reason for her decision: racist and sexist letters. Tatjana Henni, former director of the Women’s Football Association, published an anti-women’s football hate mail with numerous sexist, homophobic and obscene slurs in August 2022. In February 2022, the University of Bern felt compelled to send out a tweet in which they protectively placed themselves in front of their female scientists who were subjected to massive insults after participating in the SRF programme Einstein.

However, these examples are not isolated cases. On the contrary, hate online is a widespread phenomenon: 78 per cent of people surveyed in Germany report having been confronted with hate speech and hate messages (Landesanstalt für Medien NRW 2018: p. 2). Young people are particularly affected by this, as a cross-country study for Finland, France, Poland, Spain, the UK and the USA shows (Reichelmann et al. 2021). In Switzerland, too, almost every twentieth person was insulted, discredited or threatened last year because of a group affiliation. Most often, this happened because of physical appearance or nationality (Stahel et al, 2022).

Individual and societal consequences of online hate

Hate has serious consequences at all levels: The psychological (and sometimes physical) strain on the individual is enormous. And it also has serious consequences for society as a whole: people who have experienced hate usually withdraw from the public sphere. As a result, diversity in social discourse decreases. In addition, people who have themselves experienced hate are more likely to become perpetrators themselves (Stahel et al, 2022).

Measures against hate

Combating hate requires the interaction of various actors and measures: In addition to state instruments such as laws against discrimination (Art. 261bis StGB) and the engagement of sensitised citizens through counter-speech, platforms must also be aware of their responsibility and ensure sufficient forms of manual and automated content moderation as well as simple reporting procedures for offensive content.

Call for participation in the Citizen Science project: “A picture hurts more than 1000 words”

In order to be able to further develop measures against hate on the net, scientific, independent research is also needed. The aim of the research project “A picture hurts more than 1000 words” is to obtain data that is as representative as possible on who sends hate images, who they are directed against, on which platforms they are disseminated and what measures can be taken against them. The aim is not to focus on just one platform, a few accounts or just a few topics. Instead, the aim is to gain as representative an insight as possible into the extent and characteristics of visual hate. Therefore, the project depends on the participation of as many Citizen Scientists as possible: The public is asked to donate hate images they come across on the net to http://www.hassbilder-verletzen.ch/ from now until 05.03.23 – anonymously, of course, and exclusively for research purposes.

The project, funded by the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), is being realised by the team of authors with the support of Nikki Böhler, social entrepreneur and former managing director of Opendata.ch.


  1. State Media Authority NRW (2018): Hate speech results report. Forsa.
  2. Latzer, M., Büchi, M., Kappeler, K., Festic, N. (2021). Internet applications and
    internet applications and their use in Switzerland in 2021
    ject – Switzerland 2021. Zurich: University of Zurich. http://mediachange.ch/rese-
  3. Park, H. M., & Perry, J. L. (2008). Do campaign web sites really matter in electoral civic engagement? Empirical evidence from the 2004 post-election internet tracking survey. Social science computer review, 26(2), 190-212.
  4. Reichelmann, A., Hawdon, J., Costello, M. Ryan,J., Blaya, C., Llorent, V, Oksanen, A., Räsänen, P., & Zych,.I (2021). Hate Knows No Boundaries: Online Hate in Six Nations, Deviant Behavior, 42(9), 1100-1111, DOI: 10.1080/01639625.2020.1722337
  5. Stahel, L., Weingartner, S., Lobinger, K., Baier, D. (2022). Digital hate speech in Switzerland. Influence and social-structural factors.

BFH Wirtschaft is committed to combating hate speech

In 2022, BFH Wirtschaft realised a social media series in which 20 of our employees participated.

In addition, BFH Wirtschaft is a member of two associations that work to stop hate speech:

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AUTHOR: Franziska Oehmer-Pedrazzi

Prof. Dr. Franziska Oehmer-Pedrazzi, Blaw is a communication scientist at the University of Applied Sciences Graubünden who researches and teaches about media content, digitalisation and the governance of platforms.

AUTHOR: Stefano Pedrazzi

Stefano Pedrazzi, lic. phil., researches and teaches as a communication scientist at the Université de Fribourg on digitalisation, governance of algorithms and digital media skills.

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