10 December, 2013

Protecting human rights online from a national viewpoint

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Category: European Action Day, National campaigns, Opinion
Aileen Donegan
2 pm


10 December 2013

By Anna Gotowska

As an attempt to include and share national perspectives on the Campaign in different countries, we have decided to ‘give the voice’ to the National Campaign Coordinators, letting them explain how certain issues are being solved or viewed in their respective regions. We’ve asked them all just one question, connected to the main topic of the upcoming European Action Day – Human Rights Day celebrated on the 10th of December (today!), the question being: “Why do you think it is important to protect and stand for human rights online in your country?”

As was predicted responses varied greatly, touching upon different issues crucial for the member countries of the Council of Europe in their attempt to reclaim the online sphere for the values of dialogue and tolerance. From the problems that could be linked to the negative influence of the eurozone crisis – the rise of nationalistic tendencies included, to underlining the role of the Internet in shaping discussion models among the youth – all of the replies shed the light on many important aspects of both potential development and threats to human rights online.

The conclusions that could be driven from the replies below are promising and alarming at the same time. It seems clear that xenophobia and scapegoating of the minorities are on the rise. They have become visible tools of political strategies, entering also the Internet, influencing especially young people and creating the need to redefine rules of the online sphere. On the other hand, many of us do see the need to create a safer Internet, and actively participate in doing so. Internet is also perceived as a means of easy and efficient tool of spreading ideals close to human right values.

Now, let’s hear what the representatives of the respective countries have to say on the topic, bearing in mind that celebrating Human Rights Day offline only, is not enough anymore.

“The Internet opens up the opportunity to create, publish and distribute large amounts of information and provides a platform for self-expression and social inclusion. At the same time it can be a zone of serious human rights violations. Young people in our country are active Internet users, benefiting from all the Internet has to offer, yet every day, every minute we come across examples of the lack of knowledge in the field of human rights. We think that it is important for the Internet to be seen as a tool that can be used to increase awareness among young people.”

“In our project we initially wanted to include eight youngsters in the Campaign. In the end there were 15 young people  who wanted to be involved, all because of their own personal experiences with online hate speech. This proves that there is still too much online hate speech. It affects all of us, and it is ignored too often. This is a field where every one of us can make a difference. It’s an issue that has influence on the lives of too many people. We can’t do nothing about it.”

“We live in the modern era, the age of the Internet, which offers new ways of communication and provides the ability to create, publish, distribute and consume different thoughts, words and actions. It provides us with space for engagement and self-expression and provides new opportunities to connect with others. Unfortunately, in the online space we can also be victims or perpetrators of hate speech.  Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to these tendencies. Given the fact, that more than 90% of young people in Croatia regularly use the Internet, (on average 3 hours a day) (…) it is our duty to inform and raise awareness among them about the importance of respecting human rights and respecting diversity. Unacceptable expression and hate speech on the Internet can encourage discrimination and expand stereotype, prejudice and hatred in real life.”

“The adverse effects of the economic and financial crisis on growth and employment are negatively affecting public opinion in Cyprus. At times of economic difficulty, when people are experiencing strenuous conditions, it is more important than ever to maintain social cohesion. The long term effects of the crisis, considering the increasing unemployment, mostly affecting young people, could lead to xenophobia, discrimination, racism, social fragmentation and ghettoisation. This challenge is the reason why, especially here, especially now, we all have to protect and stand for Human Rights Online in CYPRUS!”

“In Czech Republic we have a lot of problems when it comes to the Internet sphere, discussions happening online tend to be full of hate. It is all due to the fact that people express themselves on the Internet in a different way than in the real life. It is easier to create hateful content there, which is later on thoughtlessly copied by the average Internet user. People ‘consume’ this content and they can be manipulated towards increasing hate directed mainly against Roma people or immigrants. It is our aim to give an alternative to the ordinary people and show them that hate is not the only option available.”

“The extremist right wing, nationalist and neo-nazi movements are very popular among young people in Hungary. One of the reasons for their success and attraction is the fact that they very effectively utilise the opportunities given by social media. They use strong, offensive rhetoric against minorities, migrants and especially against Roma, which helps them win the support of those who themselves face social and economical difficulties. If we want to live peacefully within our society we need to educate young people to perceive media and online contents critically, and understand everyone’s need and right for the protection of his/her human rights.”

“Next year is the two hundred year anniversary of the constitution of Norway. The progressive and freedom loving constitution was shadowed by its paragraph denying jews access. Everyone should be able to participate and feel free and safe in society – both offline and online.”

“After the visible outbreaks of homophobia and general intolerance during the events of this year’s 11 November – Polish Independence Day – it is particularly important to set good examples of tolerant online coexistence. The recently conducted research has stated, that almost half of the population of Poland uses computers as a main tool at their workplace. It clearly shows how the influence of the online sphere on our perception of the social reality will inevitably grow. It is in our hands to create a safe and respectful environment in the online world, which hopefully will also influence the way we behave offline.”

“Protecting human rights online is particularly important in here because currently, for modern Ukrainian youth, the online environment is a leading tool for communication and information sharing. Young people open to ideas and discussions turn to the Internet. The current level of critical thinking about the rules of the online world is often not enough. This influences the spread of anti-democratic ideas, the overuse of the category of the ‘other’ in online discussions and violence directed against the ones perceived as ‘different.’

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