hate speech, social media and minorities
Around the world, we are seeing a disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance – including rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and persecution of Christians. Social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry. Neo-Nazi and white supremacy movements are on the march. Public discourse is being weaponized for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatizes and dehumanizes minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so called “other”.
UN Secretary-General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech
Across the world today, discriminatory practices and hateful messages serve to stigmatize and vilify those perceived to be the “other”, the “foreigner” or the “one who does not belong”. Most of those targeted by these messages are minorities – overwhelmingly so. Among the key findings of the most recent 2018 Hate Crime Data covering European and other countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe indicate that more than 76% of hate crimes involve Jewish, Muslim, and other ethnic and religious minorities, with 4405 out of 5735 reported incidents.
Such expressions of hate and discrimination increasingly dominate political agendas and discourses, and are mainstreamed through public life, creating a climate of fear amongst individuals and communities. They can at times also create a climate of rejection, exclusion and even intolerance, threatening societal values and undermining the respect of human dignity and the protection of human rights. This type of speech, often called hate speech, in most cases target persons belonging to minorities, who are portrayed as a threat to national unity, societal harmony, national security and public order, or who are subjected to discrimination because of their distinct ethno-cultural identities, religions or languages.
Digital technologies and social media platform owners may play a role in contributing to hate speech and undermining human rights. Indeed, in recent times, there have been numerous and flagrant examples of the “rallying power” of social media platforms being abused to spread hatred, unfounded and stigmatizing rumours, fostering a climate of insecurity and animosity, and in the most extreme cases, leading to violent campaigns against members of minorities. Such unregulated online expressions of hate can result in or increase the chances of human rights violations taking place offline against some of the most vulnerable segments of society.
The main purpose of the European Regional Forum on “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities” is to provide European regional insights, which will feed into the thematic work of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues for his report to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021. Furthermore, discussions at the Regional Forum will also inform the work and recommendations of the 13th Session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which will take place in Geneva, on 19 and 20 November 2020.
The European Regional Forum should have the following five more specific objectives:
1. Raise awareness about and to promote understanding of the forms of online hate speech, including incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, against persons belonging to minorities, and the role played by social media in its dissemination, and its harmful impact, including the ‘chilling effect’;
2. Identify legal, institutional and policy challenges concerning the dissemination of online hate speech, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, on social media against minorities;
3. Explore and identify appropriate responses – especially those of states, social media platforms and civil society - to the dissemination of hate speech against minorities on social media platforms, referring to good practices, in accordance with international human rights law and standards;
4. Strengthen the participation of persons belonging to minorities and their representatives in the development of laws and policies, as well as global discussions on online hate speech and the promotion of human rights and ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity;
5. Strengthen partnerships among various stakeholders and to build their capacity to address hate speech against minorities, especially incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence on social media platforms.
Based on the discussions and the contributions of the participants, the main output produced from the regional forum will be a document with practical recommendations reflective of regional contexts and challenges.
Areas of Discussion
In light of the main objectives of the regional forums, the discussions will address the following overarching themes. These will be informed by the framework of international human rights law and standards:
- Causes, scale and impact of hate speech targeting minorities in social media
- International legal and institutional framework
- Regulation of online hate speech: The role and responsibility of intergovernmental organizations, States, internet companies and social media platforms
- Towards a safer space for minorities: positive initiatives to address online hate speech: The role of NHRIs, human rights organizations, civil society and other stakeholders
A gender perspective will be applied to all areas of discussion to address the often ‘double’ marginalisation or targeting of minority women and girls in the context of hate speech in social media.
The format of the regional forum will consist of plenary sessions and thematic working groups, which will address each thematic issue in greater detail. The aim of these discussions will be to develop draft recommendations.
The Forum shall be open to the participation of states; intergovernmental organizations including United Nations agencies and mechanisms; national human rights institutions and other relevant national bodies; academics and experts on minority issues; representatives of minorities as well as civil society organizations specializing in minority issues.
Participation is open to individuals involved in minority issues in the European region, including Central Asian countries ( see list of eligible countries below), and with a clear focus and expertise on hate speech, social media and minorities.
All individual participants must register online. Registration will close at 11pm CEST, Wednesday 16th September.
It is strongly encouraged to submit any proposed recommendations in advance of the European Regional Forum to firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Regional Forum will be an online event. Further details for joining the meeting will be sent following confirmation of registration.
Day 1, Monday 21st September, 10:00 - 16:30 (Geneva/Central European Summer Time (CEST or UTC +02:00)
Day 2, Tuesday 22nd September, 09:00 - 15:30 (Geneva/Central European Summer Time (CEST or UTC +02:00)
Interpretation will be available in English and Russian.