UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has backed "newforms of self-policing by social media platforms" and action by volunteergroups to fight hate speech spreading at "lightning speed" throughdigital media.
Launching a Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech onTuesday at the UN, he declared: "Hate speech may have gained a foothold.But it is now on notice, and we will never stop confronting it."
"Hateful and destructive views are enabled andamplified exponentially through digital technology, often targeting women,minorities, and the most vulnerable. Extremists gather online and radicalisenew recruits," he said.
He called the "new forms of self-policing by socialmedia platforms and the commitments included in the Christchurch Call"welcome developments. The Christchurch call to eliminate terrorist and violentextremist content online was adopted last month by government and technologyleaders in response to the terrorist attack on mosques in the New Zealandcapital in March.
Guterres suggested harnessing digital technology "tomonitor activity, target our response and build support forcounter-narratives".
He added that the "recent emergence of volunteer groupsthat are organising to counter harassment and hate online shows the potentialfor collaboration" between them and the UN.
"In both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes,some political leaders are bringing the hate-fuelled ideas and language ofthese groups into the mainstream, normalizing them, coarsening the publicdiscourse and weakening the social fabric," he said.
Later while speaking to reporters, he refused to nameliberal democracies and political leaders he was referring to. "If I nameand shame, the only thing that would be broadcasted would be the naming andshaming, and what I want is the substance of the issue to be dealt with."
He added that it was his strategy to not name or shame anyindividual and would "go on applying whenever it makes sense".
He said that to follow up the launch of the plan of action,he planned to convene a conference on the role of education in building resilienceagainst hate speech.
He straddled the fine line between freedom of speech andsuppression of hate speech ruling out blanket bans on free expression.
"Addressing hate speech does not mean limiting orprohibiting freedom of speech," he said. "It means keeping hatespeech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitementto discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited underinternational law."
"We need to treat hate speech as we treat everymalicious act: by condemning it, refusing to amplify it, countering it with thetruth, and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behaviour," headded.
He said that his plan would take aim at the root causes ofhate speech — which include "violence, marginalization, discrimination,poverty, exclusion, inequality, lack of basic education, and weak stateinstitutions" — and enable the UN respond to it.
Mentioning "anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred",he said that "around the world, we see a groundswell of xenophobia, racismand intolerance, violent misogyny", and added: "In some places,Christian communities are attacked." There was no specific mention ofother religions facing persecution and attacks.