The weight
of words

Words frame understanding and thinking—and in a topic as nuanced and complex as harmful speech, it is critical to ensure a shared understanding of language.

Sticks and Stones uses the terms “harm”, “harmful speech”, and “harmful content” which is different from other common terms such as hate speech, toxic speech, and dangerous speech.

Below is an outline of key terms, language, and approaches we use:

Hate speech

Hate speech is often used in legal contexts and therefore varies widely between on jurisdictions. The Australian eSafety Commission defines hate speech as:“Reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”.

Dangerous speech

Dangerous Speech is any form of expression (speech, text, or images) that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or participate in violence against members of another group.

Toxic speech

Toxic speech is a term defined by Google in its efforts to make the internet a more respectful place:“Rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make someone leave a discussion.”Each definition is an important and useful frame, though doesn’t quite capture the focus of Sticks & Stones’ work.


Harm is created when content negatively impacts or limits someone's:

· Mental or physical health.
· Feeling of worth or sense of self.
· Ability to participate.
· Safety (perceived or real).

The impact of harm can be both immediate and longitudinal. All forms of harm are damaging—regardless of perceived severity.


Sticks & Stones believes offence is distinct from harm. Harmful content typically offends, but offensive content isn’t necessary harmful as per the definition above.

Harmful content

Content that is likely to cause harm can be identified by the following characteristics:

· Rude
· Disrespectful
· Humiliating
· Intimidating
· Dehumanising or oppressing
· Encouraging or supporting of violence
· Normalises any of the above.

Sticks & Stones has a bias towards using the term  “harmful content” over “harmful speech” as the word speech is more traditionally linked to binary “freedom of speech” conversations which is not the focus on the project.

Content can both include text and imagery.


Key archetypes have been developed help engage core audiences. These are built on the understanding that many audiences will not necessarily engage in conversations explicitly about harm. NB: This is a working model subject to change:

"I don't like how people communicate online"

"I will speak up to protect people online"

"I have knowingly been harmed by others"

"I have felt off about myself or identity after being online"

"I have said things that I now regret in hindsight"

"I don't feel like I'm allowed to say what I want"

"I have witnessed harmful behaviour online"

"I like to get a rise out of people online"

Core archetypes: Jaded, Protector, Harmed, Uneasy, Regretful, Aggrieved, Bystander, and Shitposter.

More information and resources will be uploaded here as Sticks & Stones discovers more.