Hack the hate: Empower society to face hate speech

12 Nov 2018 11:45h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]

Information and communications technology (ICT) has created new means for extremist and terrorist groups to spread their messages of hate speech and ideologies. There is an evolving landscape of these extremist groups which is extremely difficult to keep up-with. Therefore, expertise and better information are required. The event focused on two approaches. First, it tried to assess how civil society can compete with bad actors in the online space. With this regard, the focus was on collaborations needed to make that competition effective. Second, it covered the topic of education and the longer-term challenge of inoculation.  

The moderator, Ms Sasha Havlicek, CEO, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, United Kingdom, argued that while the manifestations of violence represent a clear problem, it is the streaming of hateful ideologies that should be feared the most. In the recent period, the Global Peace Index has assessed that the acceptance of the rights of others has decreased in Western markets. This shows the proliferation of extreme ideas into mainstream politics and civil actions. These challenges require co-operation among governments and the private sector on the regulation of contents. With this regard, she stressed that content removal and the governance of content removal cannot be a full answer to the issue.

Mr Guillaume Buffet, Founder, Seriously Project; Vice-president of Renaissance Numérique, France, argued that there is a need to keep communication flowing between the private sector, civil society, and policy makers. He also said that technologies should be considered a major line to building tomorrow’s walls. Seriously is an online platform meant to create an alternative to hate speech on the Internet and social networks. Once the facts have been identified, the platform provides different sides in discovering advice from negotiation experts. 

He also addressed the issue of sustainable change by small actors, saying that the world is becoming more and more complicated, and the main question that needs to be answered is: How is it possible to respond to such complexity if you want to live a real sustainable social change? Nowadays, few platforms give us the access to the entirety of the world’s information and such platforms represent the scenario in which we can communicate: There is no longer a single public discourse, but many polarising arguments and discourses. There is a need to develop a model on how to work together: civil society can achieve social change with their model of interaction and vision of cause and effect.

Mr Robi Chacha, Program Officer under the Safety & Dignity Program, Amnesty International, Kenya, presented the African vision of fighting hate speech, arguing that there is a need for collaborative solutions. The Internet requires a collaborative form of solutions because of its possible dual use. The work that Amnesty International has done in Kenya is focused on discussing human rights online and on social media platforms. Despite the lack of formal structure and institutions able to tackle hate speech in Kenya, there are community networks in place: the so-called ‘community justice centres’, in which groups of young people come together to discuss issues about their community.

Mr Tonei Glavinic, Director of operations, Dangerous Speech Project, United States, addressed the question: When does hate speech become dangerous and what is it missing concerning that pivotal point? He argued that five elements constitute a speech: the message, the speaker, the audience, and the local and historical meaning that such message can have. He stressed the use of ‘dangerous speech’ rather than ‘hate speech’ to identify a broader definition due to the fact that there is little agreement on what hate speech is. Moreover, it must be noted that while hate speech can be taken down, the challenge is is to actually change the behaviour of the person or the organisation that is perpetuating the hate speech strategy.

Ms Nalaka Gunawardene, Leading Commentator and Analyst on ICTs in Sri Lanka, addressed the exponential proliferation of hate speech in Sri Lanka due to the misuse of social media. Civil society groups are countering the spread of hate speech by engaging with global platforms such as Facebook. It must be noted that most of the platforms lack language capabilities and deep understanding of the local context. This is the framework in which the role of NGOs, civil society and civic-minded tech companies have to come together to tackle the issue of hate speech online, also considering the importance of pushing for better and enforceable regulations.

Ms Alexandria Walden, Free Expression and Human Rights at Google, US, explained the mechanisms already in use to fight hate speech and dangerous contents such as flagging systems. This system allows a member of a community to flag contents violating the policy of the company or local laws. Finally, she concluded that it is needed for governments and civil society to sit at the table with the private sector and find a collaborative solution. 


By Stefania Grottola