WSW: Fear, Violence and Dangerous Speech

Mar 22, 2019

Credit WMUK

The Founder of the Dangerous Speech Project says it’s fear, not hatred, that often inspires acts of violence. Susan Benesch studies the type of speech that causes people to commit, or condone violence. Benesch will deliver the annual Winnie Veenstra Peace Lecture at Western Michigan University. Her address called Social Media and Mass Violence begins at 6:00p.m. Monday March 25th in the Bernhard Center. 

Benesch says dangerous speech can lead to violence when people are afraid. The fear may be of another racial group or of immigrants. She says political leaders can inspire violence with dangerous speech. Benesch says it can also be a celebrity or religious figure.


A lawyer and at one time a journalist, Benesch says freedom of expression is a fundamental right. She also says that trying to suppress dangerous speech is ineffective. Benesch says it can draw attention to the speaker and may make them sympathetic.

WestSouthwest Brief with Susan Benesch

Benesch says she and her colleagues study dangerous speech and find much of it online. But she says they have also found effective responses known as “counter speech.” Benesch says New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Arden has provided a good example of countering dangerous speech by saying that the victims of a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch are “us” and the shooter is not.