(No.110) Freedom of expression and freedom from hate on-line (Young People Combating Hate Speech On-line)

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Workshop Theme: 
Security, Openness and Privacy
Theme Question: 

How to secure freedom of participation and expression on the Internet without fear of harrassment or hate speech? How are these matters perceived on a global scale?

Concise Description of Workshop: 

The Internet offers the possibility of every user/participant to create, publish, distribute and consume media content fostering therefore a space of full participation, engagement and self-expression. Online space, just as offline space, presents new opportunities, challenges and threats to young people. Just as in offline space, young people may equally be victims and agents of abuse and human rights violation. Interaction in online space among different participants in communication, even though democratic and uncensored, cannot and is not to be value-void. The project Young People Combating Hate Speech On-line builds on the experiences ‘All Different-All Equal’ European youth campaigns and the capacity and competence of young people and youth organisations to act within online space. The project will mobilise European and national actors through a variety of activities such as training courses, development of educational materials, national seminars and conferences. Central to the project is a European youth media campaign which will be designed and implemented with the agency of young people and youth organisations. The campaign will adopt a positive and pro-active message – a campaign for freedom of expression on-line – while having a clear stance against all forms of racism and discrimination on-line. Youth from groups targeted by on-line hate speech – such as refugees and asylum-seekers, Muslims, LGBT and Roma – will play a particular role in the campaign. A network of young bloggers will form the core of the project and will play a central role in the preparation of an on-line media campaign The workshop will explore the tensions and dilemmas of human rights on-line activists who use the Internet for promoting a culture of universal human rights and, at the same time, are confronted with various forms of hate speech on-line. How to raise awareness and take action about understanding and living cyber-space as public space without limiting freedom of expression? How to empower and involve targets of hate speech so that they can use the Internet without fear? We'll base the workshop on a survey that we'll conduct among young people across Europe between June and September 2012. The survey and the workshop will contribute to an on-line media youth campaign for human rights and freedom of expression on line. Beyond the European reality, the project and campaign will reach out to members of thwe Islamic Organisation Conference in Africa and Asia. The on-line survey and the media campaign will also invite for participation from other continents. In view of this, the workshop has two main purposes: - To discuss with various stakeholders the perception of the risks and measures taken to prevent, educate and denounce hate speech (and its actual relevance for young people)  - To identify common global approaches to deal with/associate youth participation in Internet governance within a human rights framework.
Draft Agenda of the workshop

  1. Introduction of the workshop and panelists
  2. Freedom of expression as and human rights: framework for combating hate speech on-line. Introduction to the Council of Europe project and on-line campaign.
  3. Youth and hate speech on-line: results of surveys on attitudes and perceptions of young people about hate speech on-line
  4. Combating hate speech and fighting for freedom of expression: the case of #SupportYemen
  5. Global values and approaches to promote freedom of participation  and expression of young people on-line and combating hate speech? What can be learnt? What shall we promote? --> Conclusions.
  6. Brief round of feed-back and evaluation.


Organiser(s) Name: 

Mr Rui GOMES, Council of Europe - Youth Department, Intergovernmental organisation; Eastern Europe and WEOG

Previous Workshop(s): 


Submitted Workshop Panelists: 

Ms Maria Paschou, Chair, Advisory Council on Youth civil society; WEOG, Confirmed.
Ala'a Jarban, Academia / Youth, "Support Yemen", Sana'a University, Asia Pacific, Confirmed.
Nicola Douglas, Youth, Civil Society, Youth IGF Project, Confirmed.

Name of Remote Moderator(s): 
Ms Letizia Gambini (TBC)
Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
The majority of participants were women
To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment?: 
It was raised by one or more of the speakers as an important aspect of the session's theme
Please include any comments or recommendations you have on how to improve the inclusion of issues related to gender equality and: 

The duration of the workshop does not allow to cover sufficiently all the issues related to gender equality.

Reported by: 
Tamara Gojkovic and Rui Gomes
A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were raised: 

The workshop explored the tensions and dilemmas of human rights online activists who use the Internet to promote a culture of universal human rights and, at the same time, are confronted with various forms of hate speech online. The workshop addressed these issues from the perspective of young people as users and stakeholders of the Internet and, especially, looked at the global dimension of the issues and the responses being provided by various stakeholders.
The programme started with a presentation by Ala’a Jarban, young blogger from Yemen, who presented the situation in Yemen regarding hate speech online. In his opinion, Internet and human rights go hand in hand. Young activists in Yemen used Facebook to organise their activities, they were tweeting and blogging. The government’s reaction was to follow them, arresting and kidnapping them; many ended up in prison. On the other hand there are numerous Facebook pages spreading hatred and discrimination towards minorities. There are even organised movements, offline and online, which are targeting females and activists. It should be fought back by providing guidance and support and organized campaigns in online world. In Yemen hate speech online is used mostly in reference to cyber-bullying, otherwise it is only associated to pornographic web sites.
Nicole Douglas from Youth IGF project spoke about cultural acceptance of hate speech. From where she comes from, it is not part of the culture, since there is more cyber bullying and offensive opinions on forums based on stereotypes and ethnicity. It is not organized, but the fact that many people talk about it creates opinion that it is not offensive. It is scary that, because of anonymity, there is no identified source, except the fact that it is generally accepted.  Education is the best method to fight this discourse as it will make people more self-aware regarding what they are posting online and effects it has on other people. There are no legislative enforcements when you are online, so community based response is very important. Community is defining what is acceptable or not online -it should not be designed by those who make platforms, but those who are using.
There was a comment from audience that South Africa was good example how hate speech is handled offline – cases are prosecuted to the court.
Another comment from audience was related to power of certain societal groups to fight hate speech. For example, hash tag good Jew was taken down since Jewish community had strong response to it. The question is if Roma community would have the same power to take it down.
A participant expressed his concern regarding community responses since we need to be careful what we are promoting and aware of the responsibility.
 Audience (another person): Since internet is full of different people, can we say that community is always right and is it the best one to react?
In the discussion that ensued, the following comments and arguments were brought forward:
- Human rights are not respected offline all the time as well. If we act towards better human rights offline we need to do it online as well. We need to take into account local contexts, as well.
- We need to define who is drawing the line between violating someone’s rights.
- Offline and online are the same….we need to be empowered. If antisemitic books are not allowed and hash tags are, that doesn’t make sense.
- People can’t be anonymous offline as you can be online. We are losing some depths in online world. Two worlds are not merged yet.
- The level of acceptance of hate speech froze. People are getting used to people mistreating others. Just like in case of football fans.
- Things need to be said, and freedom of expression should be expressed. There is a difference between offline and online, you can’t reach large audiences like online or to be anonymous.
It is important to keep hate speech visible online because it can  be followed and monitored. Better than it is hidden in the basement.
Further discussion brought different comments from audience:

  • is it organized or it is personal view, and where is the limit in commenting and when it becomes hate speech. Or it is only exchange of points of view.
  • Debate on freedom of expression is lasting for a long time. We need to involve parents, schools, but also researches should be done.
  • We need to go back and think of who we are – is my real identity online or offline.

After this, Maria Paschou, chair of the Advisory Council on Youth presented the upcoming Council of Europe’s campaign against hate speech online.
The comments and reaction s to the campaign were very positive and encouraging. Participants encouraged the Council of Europe to link with existing similar initiatives rather than re-cereating everything from scratch. Involvement of actors and stakeholders from outside the Council of Europe member states should also be encouraged and given visibility.
Participants from Brasil and Canada shared examples of monitoring hate speech and of protecting young people. They proposed to the Council of Europe to make us of – and learn from – existing monitoring and protection mechanisms.

Conclusions and further comments: 
  • Hate speech online is not a European exclusivity. It exists in other countries and in different forms. Hate speech can also be used as an argument to counter freedom of expression and participation online.
  • Education is central to raise awareness of hate speech and its risks for young people. Education and awareness-raising ought o include a human rights dimension (human rights education), regardless of the context: media education, Internet literacy, citizenship education…
  • Young people ought to be supported in taking an active in educating about the Internet and human rights online
  • Combating hate speech ought to be done in the respect of human rights; the purpose therefore is not to curtail freedom of speech and expression online but to actually reinforce by strengthening young people’s awareness and confidence and removing fear of being exposed to, or target of, hatred.
  • Young people may feel very alone and powerless against forms of hate speech online
  • Doing away with the difference offline and online: the people are the same and so are the issues. Youth work and other forms of intervention ought to consider online and offline forms of interventions as part of the same approach.
  • National legal frameworks against online discrimination and hate speech should be enforced, but this is not the first aim or concern of the campaign (other bodies and stakeholders should, however, deal with that).
  • We need more research about the extent, impact and forms of hate speech online and its influence on young people. As brought up by several participants, it is also important to learn from what is being done in various parts of the world.

The results of the workshop in the plenary session on Security, Openness and Privacy which, not surprisingly, was focused on hate speech and freedom of expression.