Small Steps, Big Impact: Combating Hate Through Individual Actions

By Oprah Cunningham

In today’s digital age, combating hate and disinformation has become more crucial than ever. Disinformation and hateful rhetoric can spread like wildfire on social media platforms and online forums, often leading to real-world consequences for marginalized communities. Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach that involves understanding the nature of hate and disinformation, recognizing their impacts, and implementing effective strategies to counter them. But how can individuals empower themselves to fight back against these pervasive issues?

Before delving into solutions, it is important to define the terms at hand. Hate encompasses a spectrum of biases and prejudices, ranging from racial and ethnic animosity to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. Hate incidents, while not always criminal, are actions perceived to be motivated by bias, while hate crimes involve criminal acts toward a person or property that are driven by prejudice. Disinformation creates false narratives that target the most vulnerable communities and lead to policies and practices empowered through fear mongering that strip away the essential rights and sense of safety of individuals. Racialized disinformation adds another layer, exploiting tensions surrounding race and ethnicity to spread false narratives. All of these forms of hate are interconnected.

Hateful rhetoric doused in disinformation and shared on various forms of media can have severe repercussions, including the creation of draconian policies directed toward immigrant communities, coordinated attacks against medical providers offering gender-affirming care, and violent assaults fueled by COVID-19-related misinformation targeting Asian American communities. At the heart of these disinformation narratives lies a deliberate attempt to sow seeds of mistrust and fear. By manipulating emotions and distorting facts, these individuals and accounts seek to divide communities and stoke animosity toward people who they deem to not be worthy of rights, freedom, and liberty.

For example, medical providers offering best practice, age-appropriate, gender-affirming care to LGBTQ+ youth have been the victims of online hateful rhetoric that has affected the important and essential work that they do. Providing gender-affirming care improves the quality of life of LGBTQ+ people, a population that faces drastic disparities in suicide and depression. In extreme cases, medical providers are forced to grapple with death threats, while hospitals have faced bomb threats.

During the pandemic, disinformation has led to violent attacks against members of the Asian American community. False rhetoric surrounding the origin of COVID-19 was fueled by politicians and others with large online followings, which gave way for racist beliefs to spread around the globe. In well-publicized incidents in the United States, Vichar Ratanapakdee and Noel Quintana were attacked while going about their lives — simply because they were Asian American.

The proliferation of online disinformation has also served as a potent amplifier for dangerous content surrounding U.S. immigration and border security policies. With a few clicks, a person can stumble upon accounts spearheading distorted realities that cherry-pick data and resurrect debunked rumors to paint immigrants as harbingers of chaos and crime. Recent events have spotlighted a disturbing uptick in anti-immigrant disinformation campaigns, particularly in the context of anti-immigrant rallies in Texas. What’s more alarming is the scale of their reach, with some of these campaigns boasting millions of followers — effectively spreading their false narratives far and wide.

The downsizing of trust and safety teams within social media companies presents a significant challenge to combating disinformation. Companies grappling with mass layoffs have needed to find ways to continuously monitor their platforms to catch disinformation campaigns. This includes monitoring live-streamed content used by hate groups and swiftly removing accounts engaged in disseminating false information.

Yet amidst the noise of misinformation, there exists an opportunity for discernment and critical thinking. There are several practical strategies and communication best practices to address hate and disinformation effectively.

First, effectively countering disinformation requires a proactive approach. Educating individuals about how to spot and report false information is paramount. This process includes pausing to check the facts, conducting a reverse image search, resisting the urge to reply to or share disinformation, flagging content for social media platforms, and reporting the content to

Once disinformation is identified, proactive and fact-based messaging can be created to combat it. Messaging strategies should focus on priming the target audience to recognize disinformation as false information, balancing false narratives with factual information, and debunking disinformation to limit its spread. To prime an audience in this way, the motivation behind the disinformation must be named so as to discredit it; the falsehood must be stated and then struck down with factual information. To debunk the messaging, the actual truth of what’s being misinformed must be stated along with stating the disinformation and why it’s false. Then, the audience needs to be pointed to a trusted source.

Additionally, it is imperative that best practices be followed to combat disinformation through online media. These include avoiding amplification, naming the motivations behind disinformation, avoiding posting the disinformation on other social media platforms, going on the offense and posting as much truthful information as possible, and using engaging content (graphics, memes, videos, etc.) that guarantees the spread of factual information.

In the fight against disinformation and online hate, awareness and action are key. By understanding the nuances of hate and disinformation, acknowledging their real-world impacts, and implementing robust strategies, we can work toward creating a safer and more informed online environment. It is a collective effort that requires collaboration between individuals, communities, and media companies to safeguard the integrity of online discourse and promote inclusivity and respect for all — both online and offline.

Oprah Cunningham is the strategic communications associate at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.