Meet Maura Gancitano

Maura Gancitano is a philosopher and the president of Pensare Sociale Association. Together with Cathy La Torre, a practitioner lawyer, she launched the “Odiare Ti Costa”, an awareness and intervention campaign that deals with hate speech not only from a legal perspective, but mostly from a civil perspective.
By “Odiare Ti Costa” (translated as Hatred will cost you), Maura and Cathy work together to alert the Italian society on hate speech expansion, but also to change the perception of the victims. They closely collaborate with social media platforms to report online hate speech, and they support the targets of hate messages. All along, they consistently advocate for an updated legal framework that needs to tackle hate speech phenomena.

The moment the inner activist took over

In June 2019, Carola Rackete, captain of Sea Watch ship saved 53 migrants from Mediterean sea, but she met a lot of hostility from italian authorities that refused to provide humanitarian assistance. And the hostility continued online, as social media were flooded by tons of sexist and hate messages against Carola. At that point Maura made a call for action and asked people not only to report the offensive messages but also to help them with legal interpretations of the reported messages. The general support was massive so Maura felt compiled to continue to build a community of people that sanction hate speech properly and adequately.

The first victory

For Maura, the most striking victory was to confront Facebook organization with the dark side of its community, and to engage the company in more consistent moderation activities of online hate speech. Now Pensare Sociale Association is a trusted flagger for Facebook and is fully committed to assess to which extent Facebook is respecting and implementing Code of Conduct that all social media platforms agreed to adopt in order to redress hate speech expansion.

Extremism explained to a 5-year-old

According to Maura, if children are not educated to discriminate it is even more difficult for them to understand why some people treat other people so differently, it seems simply senseless to them. Thus one should primarily explain what makes us different, what is characteristic for us as individuals and why, in some contexts, our particularities become targets of hate and discrimination.

Extremism explained to family and friends

Explaining extremism to adults it’s quite a challenge especially that they are people who have internalized these perceptions. In this case, Maura is proposing a shock intervention that would shake adults’ framework, emphasizing how absurd the reasoning is that the characteristic of a person may have an impact on his/her dignity. Eventually, they would understand that discrimination is something induced, a filter that confronts reality, but it is not a natural judgment.

Confessions of a restless activist

For Maura, the expansion of hate speech is an urgent problem. When she thinks that so many people are waiting for things to change and knowing so many victims who need to be listened, she knows she can not allow herself any moment of rest.

Some thoughts for undecided activists

Before taking any action, it is vital to study and understand the phenomenon. Discrimination is a complex and real situation, and luckily there are many tools and not just a single solution to deal with it.
But first, as citizens of the Internet and of social media, we need to be alert, to know what are the current problems, how to frame them, and therefore how to respond to those who respond to us with slogans.
Depending on the role we play in society we need to react in accordance with our status and our prospective impact upon others. Everybody can make a difference but not any difference.

Adequate responses in uncomfortable situations

Internet is a tool and space of freedom, and Maura suggests to use this opportunity by building communities of sympathetic people for opposing ideas, ideas of cohesion. Instead of trying to change peoples’ minds or to censor, one should do its best to promote democracy and dialogue.
There may be strategies to defuse the haters, and it is important to have people to turn to. But this is not a bullet proof strategy and a certain degree of exposure is inevitable.

Challenge your inner activist

Maura does not believe in solitary heroes that fully dedicate themselves to saving all the world’s problems . We need to be inclusive, to get information, to look for contacts to get information on specific topics and to spend part of the time to spread positive information. We need to remember that on the web we are citizens equally as we are citizens in physical spaces, and therefore, as in civic spaces, we must not save the world but we must behave civilly as we normally do. We can’t do everything but we have the power to either start or follow another direction.