14 October, 2014

No Hate Forum on Combating hate speech in conflict-stricken areas

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Category: Armed conflicts, European Campaign Conference, Peace
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20141004_165133Written by Neringa Tumenaite and Balint Josa

The No Hate Speech Movement Forum held in Azerbaijan on October 2-5 had a very ambitious agenda and addressed an array of topics concerning Human Rights online. One of our workshops gathered a group of international activists to discuss hate speech and its effects on young people in conflict-stricken areas. The focus of this discussion was closely accompanied by a joint concern that individuals in vulnerable and difficult situations are not only affected by hate speech, but potentially more responsive to various other triggers as well. Online media has been identified as a key player too, with an increasingly significant role in fueling conflicts and building up tensions, which prompted the community to examine the effects of online hate speech and identify possible ways to combat it.

In order to grasp the roots of the issue, the following questions have been addressed: Why is that hate speech is especially likely to arise in the time of war? What type of messages would be most effective in promoting peacebuilding? After the working groups, joint discussions and testing the drawing skills of activists, the workshop produced 4 conflict trees and several ideas for possible future campaigning actions (presented below).

More than two sides  

Workshop participants expressed the concern that often young people are forced to choose which side of a conflict they support. Such binary framework thinking has deep historic roots and is also continuously promoted by the media and politicians. However, it fails to take into consideration that if there is a fundamental distinction between ‘the government’ and ‘the people’, which are indeed different entities; if governments are hostile towards each other, that doesn’t mean the population is as well. Therefore, promoting an idea to choose humanity over any conflicting sides should be emphasized, focusing on things which unite instead of those which divide. The No Hate Speech Movement could spread this message by calling young people from conflict regions to submit their messages/pictures of solidarity, which could be launched on the occasion of European Action Week for Human Rights to create further synergies with the movement.

Myth Busting

The national perception of histories or legends – which are often politically motivated – were also identified as one of the causes of hate speech arising in conflict-affected areas. Thus, myth busting could be a productive way to overcome this: challenging misconceptions in relation to European historical facts could be used as a tool to promote common views on history. A social media based information host could be created, where every day (regularly) one historical fact from one of the COE countries could be disproved or highlighted. The database would be uploaded after research and open calls for contributors (with similar guidelines to Wikipedia on proof-based editing), and the app would randomly select a fact, a date and a myth. Such educational awareness raising tool should also be accompanied by creative illustrations and visuals. No Hate Speech Movement activists could be involved in every step of the process as well as contributing by spreading it through their social media channels.

Overall, the community experienced that it is essential to recognise that discussing hate speech in the context of (armed) conflicts requires particular sensitivity and can often be difficult. However, it also found that it is important for such conversations to happen and for young people to be a part of them. Finally, the No Hate Speech Movement Forum, by bringing youth activists from different regions together, including those which are currently affected by conflicts, and providing them with a safe platform to engage in discussions addressing peace building, has been very educational. But perhaps most importantly it inspired proposals for joint future campaigning, meant to further promote the idea that young people can work together based on common ideas of Human Rights.

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