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We must work together to reign in ‘toxic and destructive’ hate speech

Hate speech reinforces discrimination and stigma and is most often aimed at women, refugees and migrants, and minorities. If left unchecked, it can even harm peace and development, as it lays the ground for conflicts and tensions, wide scale human rights violations. 

To turn back the rising tide of hate, the United Nations is marking the International Day for Countering Hate Speech by calling on everyone to work together to build a more respectful and civil world, and for effective action to end this toxic and destructive phenomenon.

Responses must protect free speech

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also warns that misguided and ambiguous responses to hate speech – including blanket bans and internet shutdowns – may also violate human rights by restricting freedom of speech and expression. 

Similarly, the top UN human rights official, Volker Türk, says that the spread of hate speech-related laws being misused against journalists and human rights defenders is almost as viral as the spread of hate speech itself.

In his message on the Day, he stresses that broad laws – that license States to censor speech they find uncomfortable and to threaten or detain those who question Government policy or criticize officials – violate rights and endanger essential public debate.

“Rather than criminalizing protected speech, we need States and companies to take urgent steps to address incitement to hatred and violence,” Mr. Türk says.

‘Amplify voices that cut through the hate’

But we are far from powerless in the face of hate speech, says Mr. Guterres, stressing that “we can and must raise awareness about its dangers, and work to prevent and end it in all its forms.”

He cites the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech as the Organization’s comprehensive framework for tackling the causes and impacts of hate speech, and notes that the world body’s offices and teams around the world are confronting hate speech by implementing local action plans, based on this strategy.

“The United Nations is consulting governments, technology companies and others on a voluntary Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms, aimed at reducing the spread of mis- and disinformation and hate speech, while protecting freedom of expression,” he adds.

Mr. Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calls for a range of actions – from education initiatives and investing in digital literacy programmes to listening to those most effective by hate speech and holding companies to their human rights obligations.

“More also needs to be done to address mega-spreaders – those officials and influencers whose voices have profound impact and whose examples inspire thousands of others,” Mr. Türk said. “We must build networks and amplify voices that can cut through the hate.”

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