This post was contributed by Charlie Cottrell, Head of Editorial in our London office. 

If one thing is predictable about We Are Social, it’s that we love social media. We love how quickly it changes, how creative it allows us to be and how many voices get a chance to be heard because of social channels. What we don’t love is when those voices turn nasty.

Hate on social media is a growing problem, and one that’s being largely ignored by the industry. Even brands that claim to support diversity are alarmingly quiet on the issue of online hate. We think it’s time that changed. That’s why our global team has worked with brands, platforms and community groups to produce Braving the Backlash - a practical user guide to confidently handling hate on your brand’s social media channels.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of discussion within our industries about better considering diversity and inclusivity, in both our work and in the teams who make the work. Long overdue, we’re now starting to see the impact of those discussions come to life in advertisements, creative content, training programmes and hiring initiatives. Unfortunately, with these positive steps, we’re also seeing a rise in negative public backlash. As campaigns become more diverse, and as more brands choose to stand behind issues like LGBTQ+ pride, immigration, disability and women’s rights, they are exposing themselves to a greater risk of triggering hateful comments from their followers and consumers they’re targeting.

“The internet and social media in particular have provided new platforms for offending behaviour.” UK’s Crown Prosecution Service

When you start to examine the problem of online hate more closely, you soon see that it affects all marginalised groups across racial, religious, gender, physical ability and sexual divides. Not every act of online hate is visible, but each one is an assault on the very ideas of inclusion and equality we, as an industry, are trying to support.

So why, then, are brands who are producing work tied to issues of diversity, so reluctant to respond to hateful comments when they appear next to the work on social channels? We believe it’s because they fear the possibility of backlash when trying to challenge hateful behaviour. As a socially-led creative agency, we think this needs to change. We feel we have a responsibility to support and protect the communities we engage with. We want to help brands publicly stand up against hate, instead of simply deleting or hiding it, because sweeping the problem under the carpet does not make the problem go away, especially for the communities that are being attacked.

“If you have created that space, and you’ve created that conversation, you have a responsibility to the people that come to that platform.” Kate Dale, Head of Campaign Strategy, Sport England

As part of our research, we interviewed major brands that are already doing an excellent job of braving the backlash on their channels; we surveyed community managers and content moderators and we spoke to policy experts at social platforms. Perhaps most importantly, we ran roundtable discussions with community leaders and influential commentators from the LGBTQ+ community, women’s movements and ethnic minority groups, because the impact of hate and response to it on social cannot be fully understood without considering these perspectives.

Our findings can be found in the ‘Braving the Backlash’ report. It explains why all brands need an anti-hate policy, how to create one, and where to display it. The report also introduces a our new ‘Three Rs Model’ to help brands and community managers successfully categorise and respond to hate speech online.

Brands are in a powerful and influential position. We can, if we choose to, turn the tide on hate, which can change culture for the better. If you want to join the movement, download the report here.