UN seeks to enlist citizens of world as foot soldiers in battle against hate speech

2 December 2015

The United Nations today launched a campaign against hate speech, with senior officials calling for a global mobilization of citizens as foot soldiers in the battle to uproot a scourge that seeks to unleash a clash of civilizations in the name of religion.

“Hate speech has been with us for a long time,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Cristina Gallach told a symposium on the issue at UN Headquarters in New York, urging citizens worldwide who come across hate speech on social media to forcefully counter it.

“We will never forget the slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a brief three month period in Rwanda in 1994. We will never forget either the six million Jews plus five million others who perished because of one hateful vision,” she said.

“Today, however, more than ever, individuals are using hate speech to foment clashes between civilizations in the name of religion. Their goal is to radicalize young boys and girls, to get them to see the world in black and white, good versus evil, and get them to embrace a path of violence as the only way forward.”

Both Ms. Gallach and Nassir Abdulaziz Al–Nasser, High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the symposium's host, stressed that the “loudspeakers for hate” have been amplified exponentially with the explosion of new means of communication beyond the traditional media, with Facebook and Twitter providing immediate worldwide access.

“We have a big problem on our hands,” Ms. Gallach said. “The world has witnessed this very recently in Paris, where, at last count, 130 people have died at the hands of nine young men who heeded the [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] call for violence and succumbed to hate speech.”

She called for passage and enforcement of laws prohibiting incitement of hatred or violence, and the use of communications to establish a counter-message.

“We must monitor social media and quickly respond to hate speech,” Ms. Gallach stressed. “Of course, in an age when Facebook has over 1.5 billion monthly active users, or Twitter has over 300 million users, monitoring might be almost an impossible task, but we can achieve this with the involvement of citizens of the world, who are going to be our crucial partners in combatting hate speech.”

Underscoring that the battle is a collective responsibility, not only for Member States, but for everyone, including the media, she highlighted corporations as crucial partners with the task of deleting content inciting violence or hatred.

Mr. Al-Nasser also noted the role played by new media. “We see how radical groups have hijacked these new media platforms and used [them] as an advocacy tool for their extremist ideologies, and inciting violence and hatred,” he said.

“In doing so, they have assaulted not only individuals, but also global values representing the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, we see those who also use information technology to re-inforce stereotypes, stigmatization and demonization against certain race, faith, or sexual orientation.

“That being said, our next goal should be winning the battle of ideas,” he stressed, citing the use of hate speech against migrants and minority communities blaming them for a nation's problems.

Today's symposium was the first of a series on Tracking Hatred that UNAOC will be hosting to identify best practices by engaging global media and journalists, especially those who well positioned to investigate xenophobia, violent extremism and prejudice.

The next symposium will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in April.


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