Hate speech is directly linked to human rights, as it is one form of violation, disrespect and trespassing one’s freedoms. The truth is that human rights values, principles and characteristics are not only violated by any incident of hate speech online, but a passive reaction to those incidents result in further violation of human rights, causing extensive damage to the victims and to democracy itself. In other words, the promotion of human rights is the most effective tool in the battle against negative narratives which lead to extensive hate speech both online and offline, as they are linked in multiple levels: the violation of human rights gradually lead to hate speech, whilst hate speech causes direct violation of human rights! This multilevel connection between human rights and hate speech can be schematically presented here:
Discrimination as a foundation
Discrimination as a negative fundamental principle
The target group is considered less worth of respect
The target group is considered equally worth of respect
Stereotypes, prejudice and disctrimination
Marginalization of certain
groups or individuals
Undermining confidence and self-respect
Degrading vulnerable groups or individuals
Endangering personal security
The severity and the lurking danger of hate speech incidents can be summarized in one single sentence we should always keep in mind:
“Not all hate speech results in hate crimes, but hate crimes always involve hate speech.”
So, after mapping the most important aspects of the battle between human rights and hate speech, let’s have a closer look on how some basic human rights are affected by it and to what extent.
There’s been a lot going around whether freedom of expression should be open and unlimited, or certain boundaries should be set, in order to avoid incidents of negative narratives and eventually extreme forms of hate speech. The truth is that the right to freedom of expression, meaning the right to express our point of view, our opinion, our ideas, is one of the most fundamental human rights – and we need it! It is the one that brings progress to society, the one that brings us together, the one that ensures diversity, variety and multiple “colours” in our personalities, creating a colorful – rainbow like society where everyone has their own space and feels safe and comfortable to speak. However, humanity has always struggled to find the balance between freedom of speech and respect towards others.
In an effort to get closer to a fine balance, the law has adopted a basic line of reaction to different forms of expression by evaluating their impact on everyone involved. In other words, this is how this issue is dealt with:
Unfortunately the concepts of racism and discrimination are those that set the basis and compose the foundation of hate speech in the majority of cases in the modern ages. However this is not just a title – it reflects a circle of attitudes and behaviours which start from a -supposedly- harmless point, though it can escalate and prove to be disastrous. Take a look:
So, how can we use human rights in the battle against hate speech? The truth is that there have been numerous initiatives in this direction, some of them bringing remarkable results, especially in young people. An outstanding example is no other than the “No Hate Speech Movement” which was launched as a youth campaign in 2013 and aims to combat hate speech by mobilising young people to speak up for human rights and democracy online. The movement was coordinated at European level by the Youth Department of the Council of Europe until 2017 and now continues across Europe and beyond through the work of national campaigns and campaign activists, and numerous publications, tools and media channels to support and facilitate its mission. If you are interested to learn more about it, please visit https://www.coe.int/en/web/no-hate-campaign/no-hate-speech-movement
However, the steps towards countering hate speech through human rights are pretty clear and apparent and require the active participation and involvement of all of us! Here are a few examples:
➢ Promoting human rights education: nothing can be done if there is any void of knowledge on what are human rights, what is their importance in democratic societies and what are their limits.
➢ Being informed: getting to know not only one’s own rights, but also existing support mechanisms, respective authorities or even ways to react and defend oneself (or others) in the occurrence of hateful incidents.
➢ Raising awareness: spreading the news about existing initiatives and movements against online hate speech, disseminating best practices and good examples.
➢ Enhancing tolerance and empathy: caring about each other, accepting and appreciating diversity, learning how to put ourselves in others’ shoes, is the key to fight discriminatory and hateful behaviours.
➢ Fostering equality and respect: understanding the core essence of democracy and human rights and fighting for a world where everyone is equally respected is a must.
➢ Active participation: doing something! Learning how to react, defend the vulnerable, oppose disrespectful or harmful behaviours -even if we are observers and not the direct victims, should be mandatory!
➢ Mobilising others: it’s not a battle for one! Lead by example and try to attract others and persuade them to join your cause. All for one and one for all!
Does it seem like too much to do? Well, as soon as you get the ball rolling, things will come natural! Go for it!