The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility on Wednesday launched a new policy paper aimed at countering and addressing hate speech online.
During Nigeria’s 2023 general election, ethnic groups were pitted against one another online, with a sore point in Lagos.
The policy paper, ‘Countering and Addressing Online Hate Speech: A Guide for Policy Makers and Practitioners’, was developed jointly by the UN Office with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project at the UK’s University of Essex.
“We have seen across the world, and time, how social media has become a major vehicle in spreading hate speech at an unprecedented speed, threatening freedom of expression and a thriving public debate,” stated Alice Nderitu, Special Adviser to the UN secretary general on the Prevention of Genocide.
Ms Nderitu further stated, “We saw how the perpetrators in the incidents of identity-based violence used online hate to target, dehumanise and attack others, many of whom are already the most marginalised in society.”
She added that the most marginalised in society include ethnic, religious, national or racial minorities, refugees and migrants, women and people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
The policy paper builds upon earlier initiatives, including the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which seeks to enhance the UN’s response to the global spread and impact of hate speech.
The strategy makes a firm commitment to step up coordinated action to tackle hate speech, both at global and national levels, including using new technologies and engaging with social media to address online hate speech and promote positive narratives.
“Digital technologies and social media play a crucial role in tackling hate speech through outreach, awareness-raising, providing access to information, and education,” noted the Special Adviser.
“The transformation of our lives into a hybrid format, with the share of our life spent online ever-increasing, ensuring that we all enjoy the same rights online as we do offline has become ever more important,” stated Ahmed Shaheed, deputy director of the Essex Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project and former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion of Belief.
He warned of “the acts of violence that follow from online incitement to violence, including mass atrocities,” beyond the digital divides created by online hate.