29 February, 2016

EXERCISE: Roots and branches of sexist hate speech

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Category: gender equality, sexist hate speech
Community Manager
10 pm

probtreeThis is a recommended exercise to be implemented with young people within the Action Day countering hate speech on the 8th March.

Participants explore the causes and effects of sexist hate speech online using a ‘problem tree’ approach.

This exercise and other useful information about the Campaign and hate speech can be found in the manual Bookmarks.

Group size: 12-20


Time: 45 minutes


  • To understand the causes and effects of online sexist hate speech
  • To consider the connections between sexist hate speech online and offline behaviour
  • To explore ways of addressing sexist hate speech online by examining the roots of the problem


Flipchart paper and markers


Make copies of the ‘Hate Speech Tree’ for participants, or draw  the ‘Hate Speech Tree’ onto a flipchart


  1. Provide a brief introduction to sexist hate speech online  and the Council of Europe Campaign, if this is the  first activity you run. Use the “Write about sexist hate speech” Blogpost, to introduce sexist hate speech, and some of the information from Chapter 2 of Bookmarks to tell them about the Campaign.
  2. Explain that in order to understand and respond to sexist hate speech online, we need to see it as a problem with numerous connections to other issues, and to the ‘real’ world. In particular, when we are trying to combat sexist hate speech, it can be useful to look at the underlying causes. Addressing these is often more effective than trying to address instances of sexist hate speech itself.
  3. Show participants the ‘Hate speech tree’ and tell them that they will be working in groups to identify some of the things which lead to sexist hate speech online (the ‘roots’ of the tree), and some of the effects of sexist hate speech (the ‘branches’).
  4. Explain how the tree works. Every box which leads up the tree to another box is answering the question ‘why?’ This is true for the branches as well as the roots. You could take an example of sexist hate speech to illustrate this in more detail (see the Tips for Facilitators).95
  5. For the roots: when participants work down the tree, starting from the sexist hate speech itself, they are exploring answers to the question ‘why does this happen?’ They should fill the ‘roots’ with as many reasons as possible. Give them an illustration of how one ‘cause’ will have its own causes. For example, ask them why ‘everyone says sexist things’ about certain groups. Prompt with questions about where we ‘learn’ the negative things we believe about particular groups (examples might include the media, public figures, strong prejudices or ignorance in society as a whole).
  6. For the branches: here participants need to explore the possible consequences of items lower down the branch. Ask them what could happen to an individual or to a group which is targeted by sexist hate speech. Ask them what might happen as a result of that.
  7. Divide participants into groups and give them a piece of flipchart paper to draw their tree on. Tell them to write the following text, or an example of your own, in the ‘trunk’ of the tree and then to complete as many branches and roots as they are able to. They should imagine the text has been posted on the Internet.
  8. Give groups about 15 minutes to complete their trees. Then ask groups to present their results, or display the trees around the room for people to walk around and look at.

Debriefing questions to be discussed with the group:

  • Do you notice any interesting differences between the trees produced by groups? Do you have any questions for other groups?
  •  How easy did you find the ‘roots’ of sexist hate speech? Explain any difficulties or differences in opinion within the groups.
  • Did any of your roots or branches go into the ‘real’ world? What does this tell us about sexist hate speech online?
  • Did the activity give you a deeper understanding of the issue? How important do you think it is that we find ways to stop the spread of sexist hate speech on the Internet?
  • Does the activity help you to do that? How could you use your problem tree to make sexist hate speech less likely?

In order to give the activity a more practical focus, you could take some of the roots and brainstorm ideas for addressing them. For example, if participants have identified ‘prejudice’ or ‘ignorance’ as an underlying cause, ask them how this problem could be tackled. Explain that campaign planning often uses a problem tree approach to identify ways of breaking the problem down, and finding ways to approach it.

Tips for fac ilitators

A problem tree is a very common way of understanding a given issue at a deeper level. It is easier to explain with an example, so you could use a different statement to introduce the trees, for example:

“Young people are idle and selfish. They should be hidden from society until they grow into normal human beings”.

When participants work on their own ‘trees’, you could provide them with a copy of the handout – photocopied to A3 – or ask them to draw their own on the flipchart paper. The second method will give them more possibility to extend the roots and branches further, but may appear more difficult than filling out a set number of boxes. Make sure that groups consider the effects on both individuals and on society.

If participants appear to have missed out important causes or effects, you may want to prompt them to consider these. You could also provide them with the following list as prompts when they draw their trees. They could consider whether the factors or actors in the list have any relation to the problem, and where they might fit into the tree:

  • – The media
  • – Politicians / public figures
  • – Hate speech offline
  • – Little interaction between Group X and the rest of society
  • – Peer pressure
  • – Discrimination in the work place
  • – Economic factors
  • – Schools / education

Ideas for action

Participants could take one of the causes they have identified and develop a strategy to address this problem. The could select one online action and one offline action to carry out as a group.

Find out more about how to take action for human rights online, by visiting the No Hate Speech Movement website, the European Action Day against Sexist Hate Speech space or by contacting your National Campaign Committee.

If you need more information about how to take action for human rights, have a look at Compass, the Council of Europe Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, www.coe.int/compass, where a whole chapter is dedicated to the steps needed for taking action.

For potential follow-up and other interesting content please check out the useful links, or other relevant campaigns, or other educational resources, or articles and videos.

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