26.01.2019

Mongolia to combat hate speech in online media

Hate speech is rife on local news websites in Mongolia amid a lack of self-regulation of the newsroom and of media literacy among the public.

  • Presentation of the study Hate Speech in Online Media at a roundtable on media policy, Ulaanbaatar, 21 September 2018. Photo by FES Mongolia.

Mongolia has a population of a little over 3 million but more than 400 media outlets. A recent research study titled Hate Speech in Online Media, which was supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Mongolia, showed that local news websites have become a platform for spreading hate speech. One reason identified is the lack of self-regulation in newsrooms and of media literacy among the public.

There is no clear definition of “hate speech” in Mongolia, and no major research to address the issue has been done. To conduct the study, two researchers with journalism background adopted a methodology of monitoring and key words, translated widely used definitions of “hate speech” from English into Mongolian and examined the legal environment by interviewing and consulting experts in various areas including media, law, education and human rights.

Aggressive, offensive and threatening speech in 43 news websites with the country domain “.mn” were tracked. From the 80 articles identified to contain such speech, 50 examples were tested with the content analysis approach, accounting for the frequency of selected key words and determining if the article and comments containing the marked words are hate speech.

In an article published March 13, 2018, with the title “Eldegdorj`s exclusive honor” the author referred to Kazakhs, the second largest ethnic group in Mongolia after the Khalkhs, as robbers. “[…] Kazakh robbers fought against and robbed Mongolians. All know, that Kazakhs historically always wanted to repress Khalkhs and other nationalities,” the author wrote.

The newsroom apologized and removed the article after a protest by members of the Kazakh community.

“A single article like this one caused a dispute among Kazakh and Khalkh Mongolian youth, which manifests the tremendous potential for damage of hate speech. Not all regulation we see in media is useful, but on this [hate speech], it is necessary!” said Enkhbat Tsend, Vice president of the Mongolian National Website Development Association during a round table meeting on media policy organized in September 2018 by the Media Council of Mongolia and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

This was among the 50 examples which contained expression of hatred that attacked public figures, Mongolian Kazakhs, Chinese, female politicians, women married to foreigners and LGBTI people.

Such telling example is the article “Osorjamaa brings trouble or Mongolian sorrow” that defamed a young Mongolian Facebook influencer. Published 30 August 2017 in one of the monitored news websites, the article said: “His [Osorjamaa’s] stupidity went too far, he even changed his sex, and he started to attack people”.

Osorjamaa, while receiving wide support by numerous followers, has also received threats, with many calling for violence against Osorjamaa on social media.

“It became a real sensation when Osorjamaa denied his sex at birth and decided to become a woman,” wrote the author of yet another article targeting the same individual and published months later that same year. “Dressed like a woman and with make up on his face, he was beaten on the streets and was about to lose more than his wig (his life too). […] he is not only alive but came back with an even more pronounced feminine style.”

Even though most of the examined online media outlets in the study on hate speech online are small websites, the findings showed that hate-filled articles are rapidly shared and commented on the internet.

Prompted by the findings, experts attending last year’s September meeting on media policy discussed ways to handle hate speech and regulate media outlets that spread intolerance and hate speech online, an issue in Mongolian journalism that had been largely ignored. Journalists must follow ethical principles and avoid hate speech in the content they generate. To this end, at the meeting, experts also considered various ways to promote ethical reporting, supporting training for journalists on human rights and tolerance.

“With this research, we do not support the idea of legislation or censorship to eliminate hate speech, even though it could be discussed as an option,” noted Chimeddondog Tsegmid, one of the researchers who authored the study. “Instead, we think the best way to combat and reduce hate speech in online media is by way of improved self-regulation, public education and debate.”

The research found 30 per cent of hate speech was tracked to journalists’ articles and 70 per cent to website users’ comments. According to the general terms and requirements for digital content service of the responsible regulatory body in Mongolia (link), online news media is responsible for the comment sections on their websites and it needs to be self-regulated. However, the commissioned study showed that newsrooms do not effectively moderate users’ comments.

Even the leading news websites, which follow good editorial policy and code of ethics, fail to moderate the readers’ comments section, creating an environment where hate speech can spread on online platform without hinderance.

“It is true that comments are not edited on websites” said Ariunbileg Oyunbilegt, editor-in-chief of leading Mongolian news website GoGo News Agency. Moderation is absent because newsrooms are understaffed and hiring someone in charge of the community management is almost impossible due to the lack of investment. “We have to pay attention to the comments” Ariunbileg added.

Most of the participants at the meeting on media policy stand by the opinion that comment sections on news websites need to be moderated, and tools to avoid hate speech should be introduced. The need to learn from the other countries’ best practices on moderating reader’s comments were also discussed.

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Munkhchimeg Davaasharav is the CEO of the Mongolian Center for Investigative Journalism (MCIJ). For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung with the MCIJ and in Mongolia contact the country office staff and follow the official facebook fan page for daily updates.

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