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Why online xenophobia after AFCON should be taken more seriously

In sports, victories and defeats bring out intense emotions.

Online xenophobia after AFCON should be taken more seriously

In the aftermath of Nigeria's victory over South Africa at the 2024 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the reaction went beyond typical sports rivalry.

The internet became a battleground, with some South Africans unleashing xenophobic comments against Nigerians.

Xenophobia, or the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners, is not new. But the internet has given it a wider, more dangerous platform. Xenophobia online isn't just about individuals expressing negative feelings. It's about how these sentiments spread and grow, becoming more hateful and harmful. When Nigeria won the match, it wasn't just about football anymore. It turned into a showcase of how online platforms can be used to spread hate.

Trolls and bots play a big part in this. Trolls are people who post inflammatory or off-topic messages in online communities, to upset others or distract from meaningful conversation. Bots are automated accounts that can spread messages quickly and widely. Together, they can make xenophobic messages seem more popular and accepted than they really are.

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Imagine opening your social media to find not just one, but hundreds of messages saying harmful things about where you're from. It can make you feel unwelcome, unsafe, and devalued. This is the reality for many when online xenophobia spreads. Fortunately, Nigerians are never deterred.

But why do people participate in this hate? For some, it's a misguided way of showing loyalty to their country or team. They see the sports rivalry as a battle that continues off the field and turn to xenophobia as their weapon. For others, it's about joining in with the crowd. When they see xenophobic comments getting attention or laughs, they add their voice, not thinking about the real harm they're causing.

The internet's anonymity makes this worse. People say things online that they would never say face-to-face. They don't see the immediate hurt their words cause, and so they don't think about the consequences.

So, what can we do about it? First, we need to understand that online actions have real-world impacts. The hate spread online doesn't stay there; it affects how people see and treat each other in everyday life.

Second, social media companies must take responsibility. They need to use technology to identify and stop the spread of xenophobic content. This means better detection systems and quicker responses to reports of hate speech.

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But it's not just on these companies. Everyone has a role to play. If you see xenophobic comments, report them. If you see someone being harassed, support them. And most importantly, think before you post. Your words have power, so use them to build up, not tear down.

Education is also key. Schools and communities should teach about the dangers of xenophobia and the importance of respecting all people, regardless of where they come from. Understanding and empathy can go a long way in combating hate.

The rise of online xenophobia is a challenge that affects us all. It spreads division and harm, turning even a simple sports match into a source of hate. But by taking action, both individually and together, we can fight back. We can create an internet — and a world — where everyone is respected and valued, no matter where they come from.

This content was created with the help of an AI model and verified by the writer.

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