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The impact of a tweet: Restore:London’s memorable restorative justice moment

Challenging hate speech on social media and helping an individual to see how their words hurt a whole community.

24 November 2017

I co-facilitated the case with a colleague and it was my first time working on an online hate crime case. Working with the lead facilitator highlighted the importance of restorative justice in tackling hate speech.

The case was referred to us by Community Security Trust (CST), who advise and support people affected by anti-Semitic incidents. The case surrounded an offensive anti-Semitic tweet sent by the harmer. The tweet made reference to a Football Club in an anti-Semitic manner, and the harmers employer told CST that they were keen to educate the harmer on why this was wrong. Restore:London (R:L) asked a person representing the community (community victim) from football charity Kick it Out to participate as a community victim. R:L coordinators shared the restorative questions with the harmer and harmed during separate pre conference visits.

Both the harmer and harmed were asked the open ended restorative questions. These questions were asked by the R:L co facilitators from a place that was free from blame and punishment. They were designed to have the recipients open up and share feelings / thoughts that occurred at the time of the harm and since. They also afforded recipients the opportunity to express what they expected moving forward and their anticipated roles in that process.

The harmer shared that he saw the offensive tweet as ‘football banter’. He expressed feelings of fear and anxiety he had experienced since learning how his tweet had been interpreted. The community victim shared that even if the comment was intended as banter, it was still anti-Semitic language and people were offended by it. The community victim proceeded to share visual examples of anti-Semitic slurs in football. These pictures with their powerful accompanying stories of racist comments and anti-Semitic slurs impacted all present at the conference. She explained the good work done by CST and Kick It Out in their respective effort to fight anti-Semitism and racism in football and wider society. The harmer had been unaware of both organisations and their good work. The harmer apologised for the harm his remarks had caused and took all of the CST and Kick it Out resources offered by the community victim.

The community victim appreciated the harmer’s apology. She believed the restorative conference caused him to rethink his actions, the harm caused and how to avoid possibility of causing similar harm moving forward. The community victim had initially been concerned about the harmer’s inability to make eye contact with her as she began to explain and share examples of hate and racism in football. This concern dissipated as the conference process witnessed engagement that made her feel the harmer was really remorseful. She felt she was able to leave the harmer understanding the need for both CST and Kick It Out and that she had been really heard. The harmer’s ensuing apology where he expressed being really sorry for the harm his tweet caused left the community victim feeling certain that he was remorseful.

The harmer said he’d experienced much anxiety and fear since his tweet. He appreciated the opportunity to express and bring forward the clarity of intention behind them.  He felt the resources she shared were good and he would definitely review them. The harmer said he had completely understood the community victim’s views and why she and those she represented were so concerned about his actions. He said it was nice to hear the community victim’s words at the conference and he felt good that he was able to apologise to her.

The community victim concluded that the restorative conference and post conference conversation with the harmer left her feeling that she and the harmer had ‘more in common than that which divides them.’

The moment that stuck with me from this case was during the conference when the community victim brought out pictures of horrific abuse towards Jewish community. It was at this moment that I believe the harmer was able to understand the true extent of his actions. He immediately uttered the words “I am so sorry”. He was able to leave the meeting knowing his actions were wrong and he was also educated on the implications of what he initially thought to be harmless.