How counter narratives can help pluralistic democracy to flourish online

19 Dec 2017 12:45h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The moderator, Mr Menno Ettema, European Coordinator, No Hate Speech Movement, Council of Europe, began by explaining the background to the No Hate Speech Movement, an online youth campaign to combat hate speech and promote and mobilise young people for human rights. This was launched in 2013 by the Council of Europe, and is ongoing. He said, ‘If we want to have freedom of expression for all, it should be free of hate speech. A pluralistic platform for discussion. So human rights education has been a key point. We launched bookmarks, which is a tool to work with young people on analysing hate speech, and it’s opened up a lot of discussions on human rights in general.’

We CAN! A manual for taking action on hate speech was launched in March 2017 and Mr Ettema then handed over to campaigner Mr Ron Salej, Activist and Human Rights Author, to talk about this. Mr Salej said that We CAN! is for young activists, human rights activists, and campaigners, and is a tool to help activists and young people respond to hate speech. The first part is more theoretical, and provides background information on the No Hate Speech Movement, while the second part is dedicated to explanations and the categories of narratives used, such as oppressive narratives, counter narratives, and alternative narratives.

Mr Ettema thanked Mr Salej, saying that this was one approach, but there are two tracks. The second is where educators are trained to analyse hate, an area being specifically worked on by Ms Ingrid Aspelund, European Wergeland Centre, who talked about a particular training course where the manual was used to develop counter alternative narratives to hate speech or oppressive narratives. The course was in Utoya, Norway, and brought together youth leaders from 15 different countries to the site of the killing of 29 young people in the ‘Utoya Massacre’ in 2011. The focus of the course was about finding a balance, creating new life, and engaging young people in important issues in society. It included the development of counter and alternative narratives, and how to respond to hate, and polarisation.

A question from the audience addressed the concept of hate speech, saying that sometimes people put up bad jokes online. The questioner said, “It’s supposed to be a joke, but some people may find it offensive. So does that come up as hate speech, and if so, what if everybody says no more jokes online, and doesn’t that encroach into content regulation on the Internet?’

Another audience member, Esther from Zambia, said that her organisation had found that six in ten people experience emotional abuse online, and gave comprehensive figures for this. She observed that there’s a big gap in the education system, saying, ‘If we are to teach about hate speech and bring more positive messages, it has to come from a younger level and be part of the education system.’

Mr Salej responded that when it comes to hate speech, there are a lot of grey areas, but the issues represent the wider society issue of how we respond, and how we have knowledge of each other. Part of the approach of the campaign is to very strongly make people aware of the balances, and develop critical reflections on their online behaviour. Because of the possibility that the Internet gives to share material through a hidden identity, some people feel more encouraged to share even more harsh hate speech.

He said non-European organisations could join as campaign partners to take up action and use the campaign logo. The role of the Council of Europe is to bring people together, and provide resources, not financial but more capacity knowledge and connections,

Mr Mennem concluded the meeting by outlining that the manual is downloadable, and is being translated into more languages, with more and more languages upcoming. ‘So German is coming, Spanish is coming, it’s all coming!’

By Noha Fathy