SDG 16: Promoting peaceful and inclusive [knowledge] societies

4 May 2016 13:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

‘SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ (United Nations Sustainable Development, 2015)

The high-level panel on promoting peaceful and inclusive [knowledge] societies was moderated by Dr Indrajit Banerjee (Director of the Knowledge Society Division, UNESCO). The session addressed the ways in which different technologies, and different WSIS Action Lines, can be used to advance the achievement of SDG 16. The session had three components.

Mr Boyan Radoykov (Chief of Section for Universal Access and Preservation, UNESCO) moderated the roundtable on fighting youth radicalisation and preventing violent extremism on the Internet. He provided his view on counter-radicalisation. According to Radoykov, weapons, repression, and censorship are not enough in fighting extremism: ‘for reason to prevail, we need to turn to the youth’s hearts, ideas, and the universal values of civilisation.’ He also mentioned UNESCO’s projects in countering online radicalisation, including the International Conference on Youth and the Internet, which resulted in a Plan of Action. Finally, he explained the different ways used to counter radicalisation: using censorship, offering counter-discourse, and educating youth about media and information.

Ms Darice Rusagara (Advisor, Pan-African Youth Network on the Culture of Peace) and Mr Tim Francis (Associate Programme Specialist, Section for Media and Society, UNESCO) provided examples of specific projects against radicalisation. Rusagara elaborated on the use of counter-discourse to distribute a message of peace rather than violence. In four key points, she explained the approach of her organisation:

  1. Regard Internet as a collaborative tool to share and implement ideas.
  2. Use online messages related to culture, sports, and arts.
  3. Provide capacity building to youth organisations.
  4. Engage with youth in peace policy processes

Francis gave another example of counter-discourse, and talked about UNESCO’s #Unite4Heritage social media campaign. He stressed that there is a symbiotic relationship between offline and online dimensions and that the two always need to be in sync. Furthermore, he mentioned that simply deconstructing extremist narratives is not enough for de-radicalisation; people need alternative, positive messages to believe in. In his view, social media needs to live up to its potential ‘as a form of dialogue, not dispute; togetherness, not division; and tolerance, not violence’.

Mr John Crowley (Chief of Section for Research, Policy and Foresight, UNESCO’s Sector for Social and Human Sciences) closed the session by refuting two commonly held assumptions on online youth radicalisation: that it is a new phenomenon and that it is a security issue. He dove in to the complexities of the topic, and argued that radicalisation has a long history, far predating the Internet, and that it is currently occurring in offline spaces as well (e.g. prisons). Social media is mainly a tool to spread ideology, not the driving force behind the rise of the phenomenon itself. Furthermore, online violent extremism needs to be embedded in a broader social context, as it also has connections to public awareness, education, and culture. His final message is that we need serious, interdisciplinary, scientific research and evidence to understand whether our assumptions about online radicalisation are true. If we build our policies on false assumptions, we could end up in a state where man is – in Hobbs’s words – ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.  The Q&A focused on funding mechanisms for future research, best practices of initiatives, and the risk of studying ‘dangerous topics’.

Mr Tomasz Janowski (Head and Founder, United Nations University’s Special Operating Unit on Policy-driven Electronic Government) moderated the second roundtable on the key enablers of peaceful and inclusive knowledge societies and introduced the speakers.

The first speaker was Mr Nicolas Seidler (Senior Policy Advisor, Internet Society), who emphasised the concepts of diversity and inclusiveness in SDG 16. Inclusiveness can be achieved by connecting marginalised communities to the Internet, not only by providing the necessary infrastructure, but especially by offering locally relevant content. He also pushed for a shift in thinking about inclusiveness and diversity; it is not about ‘empowering these groups’, but about giving them the opportunity to ‘empower the rest of society’. Mr Paul Blaker (Head of International Information and Communication Technology at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the United Kingdom) agreed that Internet infrastructure is ‘a means to an end’, urging focus on the social, economic, environmental, and cultural benefits brought by ICTs. He highlighted the interaction between the WSIS and SDG processes, arguing that both are ultimately focused on a people-centred agenda.

Ms Dragana Korljan (Human Rights Officer and Coordinator of the Justice, Protection and Social Rights Unit in the Special Procedures Branch of the Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights) addressed the human rights side of online cultural development. She stressed that cultural rights provide us with a prism through which we can see things differently. In order to make advances in sustainable development, it is important that the diversity of culture and knowledge systems is included online. Mr François Marien (Former Communications Officer in the Directorate General for Human Resources, European Commission) closed the roundtable by providing his experiences with ICT as a disabled person. Although ICT can be a great enabler, disabled people ultimately need to be protected through measures that counter discrimination. The Q&A addressed the need for local content, listening to local communities, exchanging good practices, and bridging the digital divide.

During the final part of the session, participants and panellists had the opportunity to share their projects with others, and to explore opportunities for partnerships. Some of the projects that were presented included:

  • UNESCO’s counter-radicalisation programmes, including counter-discourse, campaigns, best practice sharing, research, empowering youth online and strengthening cooperation with and between media actors.
  • The Information for All-Programme (IFAP), a platform to discuss information for development, information accessibility, ethical dimensions of the information society, information literacy, preserving information for future generations and local content in various languages.
  • Educational Programmes on Heritage and Creativity, and the #Unite4Heritage campaign.
  • The World Atlas on Endangered Languages – a project that stimulates multilingualism.

Radoykov closed the session by noting that the topics debated today were not new; they were discussed during the first ever Info-Ethics Conference in 1995. He noted that we have made a lot of progress since then, and said we should continue debating these issues in the context of today’s society.

by Barbara Rosen Jacobson