Associations Between Witnessing and Perpetrating Online Hate Speech Among Adolescents: Testing Moderation Effects of Moral Disengagement and Empathy

Sebastian Wachs, Ludwig Bilz, Alexander Wettstein, Michelle F. Wright, Julia Kansok-Dusche, Norman Krause, Cindy Ballaschk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: The open expression of hatred, hostility, and violence againstminorities has become a common online phenomenon. Adolescents are at particular risk of being involved in different hate speech roles (e.g., witness, perpetrator). However, the correlates of their involvement as perpetrators and themechanisms that might explain their involvement in hate speech across different roles have not yet been thoroughly investigated. To this end, this study investigates moral disengagement and empathy as correlates of online hate speech perpetration and the moderation effects of empathy andmoral disengagement in the relationship between witnessing and perpetrating online hate speech. Method: The sample consists of 3,560 7th to 9th graders from 40 schools in Germany and Switzerland. Self-report questionnaires were utilized to assess online hate speech involvement, moral disengagement, and empathy. Results: Multilevel regression analyses revealed that moral disengagement and witnessing online hate speech were positively associated with online hate speech perpetration, while empathy was negatively associatedwith it. The findings also showed that the positive relationship between witnessing and perpetrating online hate speech was stronger at higher levels of moral disengagement and weaker when moral disengagement was low. The association between witnessing and perpetrating online hate speech was weaker when adolescents had higher rather than lower levels of empathy. Conclusions: The findings underscore the need for prevention efforts to accelerate moral engagement and empathy as critical future directions in hate speech prevention. This study also contributes to our understanding of underlying mechanisms that explain adolescents’ involvement across different roles in hate speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-381
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology of Violence
Volume12
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 4 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology

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