UN Report urges coordinated international response to online hate

As a result of social media’s capacity to spread information, and the platforms’ propensity for amplifying the most controversial content, online hate is increasing, not diminishing.

This was among the key messages delivered by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr. Fernand de Varennes in his report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in March 2021.

Noting that a significant majority of the victims of online abuse (75%) are women and/or members of minority groups, de Varenne also flagged the phenomenon as one that prepares the ground for “dehumanisation and scapegoating”. This normalization of hate speech increases the likelihood of in-person crimes and violence.   

Although many organizations are working to address online abuse, the UN report maintains that an international regulatory framework based on the protection and promotion of human rights, and using an internationally accepted legal definition of hate speech is necessary. 

The report urges countries and social media companies alike to adopt a zero tolerance policy for hate speech, hate crime and racism targeting minorities. Creating the conditions that would effectively make the Internet a safe environment requires attentive monitoring of hate speech and racism. It also notes that in light of the disproportionate impact of hate speech on minorities, they must be prioritized by social platforms in the consultation process informing any efforts. 

In his call for action, de Varennes observed that platforms demonstrate woeful ignorance or misunderstanding of international human rights. 

“Whole societies are currently being poisoned with misinformation and hate. We need to put a stop to this,” he said.