Menno Ettema

17 January, 2017

Taking on the Internet: Fighting Hate Speech at its Roots

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

The internet gives us new opportunities to enjoy our rights to express our opinions and to assembly, even internationally, free from practical burdens such as travel costs or visa regimes. It gives us the opportunity to be truly inclusive and work together towards a better future for everyone. To ensure the longevity of this space, coordinated efforts are needed to counter the threat of online hate speech through awareness raising, human rights education, promoting alternative messages, and legislation._MG_3863

The Council of Europe’s recommendation on human rights for internet users reconfirms that the internet has a public service value. States have the obligation to secure human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legislation to address hate speech is often opposed on the grounds that it will restrict our right to free expression. Such risks are real, and therefore monitored by the Council of Europe, who published a study on state practices regarding filtering, blocking and taking down of illegal content in 2016.

But there is another side to the story: censorship through hate speech. While freedom of expression is a right for everybody, hate speech can be very threatening, and even lead to hate crime. We see members of communities targeted by hate speech disengage from online discussions and social platforms. This is a sad reality considering the web has given so many opportunities to people unable to express themselves before. It is also a direct threat to participatory democracy if whole groups are threatened into silence through hate speech.

The No Hate Speech Movement was initiated by Youth Representatives at the Council of Europe, to increase the knowledge of young people – through human rights education – of the risks hate speech poses to human rights and democracy, and empower them to reject it, while promoting rights online. It is composed of national campaigns in over 44 countries across Europe and beyond, with over 80 online activists and campaign partners.

Fighting Hate Speech through Education

BookmarksLearning about our human rights and how to apply them in daily life is a life-long project[1] as societies develop, and communities change. The internet has accelerated this process by giving more information about the world around us and its people than ever before. But once made aware, young people need to know how to respond; Bookmarks, a manual on combatting hate speech through human rights education supports youth workers, educators, and young leaders to this end.

But even if we understand the risks of hate speech, it remains a challenge to develop an effective response. While some hate speech needs to be taken down because it forms an imminent threat to the people it targets, a lot of hate speech is better addressed through counter speech that challenges the underlying hateful messages. In other instances, alternative narratives are needed that provide different points of view, encouraging internet users to instead promote human rights and democratic values. The No Hate Speech Movement will publish a new manual and run a training course in March 2017 to support youth workers and educators to develop with young people counter and alternative narratives to hate speech they encounter.

Fighting Hate Speech through Legislation

Education is not always enough. Some hate expressions fundamentally undermine human dignity and form an imminent threat to the targeted people. For such cases, States need to provide clear legislation, which is a challenge in the fast-changing reality of the internet. The European Court of Human Rights provides a growing body of case law and Factsheets to draw from.

The No Hate Speech Movement also calls for the implementation of the General Policy recommendation nr 15 on hate speech issued by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe. It includes useful definitions of hate speech, incitement, and freedom of expression. Its recommendations call for speedy reactions by public figures to hate speech, withdraw of support to political parties that actively use hate speech, self-regulation of media, and awareness raising on the dangerous consequences of hate speech. More countries should also ratify the additional protocols of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime which covers the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.

The effective and proportionate implementation of such conventions and recommendations calls for a multi-stakeholders approach that incorporates governments, internet business, and civil society.

Hate speech threatens to take over our public space, silencing those being targeted. It undermines our democratic values, and the potential to alienate us from each other.  We must not forgo the opportunities we have now to find long-lasting solutions together.

MapIn 2017, the No Hate Speech Movement will organise 6 Action Days on specific forms, or targets, of hate speech. Join the campaign online, via Facebook or twitter via #nohatespeech or contact the national campaign in your country.

[1] Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education

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