Second International Day for Countering Hate Speech: “It Begins With Words and Each of Us: Effective Action to Counter Hate Speech”

High-Level Panel Discussion

June 19, 2023

Distinguished panelists, colleagues, partners from across the world, 

Allow me to begin by thanking the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the Kingdom of Morocco for giving UNDP the opportunity to participate to mark the 2nd International Day for Countering Hate Speech in this discussion. A sincere thanks to Ms. Alice Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention, for the warm welcome and moderation.  

Today, the threat posed by hate speech progressively undermines tolerance, inclusion, and respect for diversity, which not only fuels violent extremism in fragile and conflict areas, but also further undermines social cohesion and political stability in countries across the world. No country is spared. This is also increasingly manifested through political extremism, including right-wing extremism. In fact, the use of dangerous, or hateful speech to disparage individuals and to promote violence against them is growing exponentially online, in parallel with the rise of social media use.  

Borrowing the words of Nadja, a gifted artist in Albania, who faces the challenges of living with stunting, “In a world where words hold such power, hate speech can inflict deep wounds on one's soul. It reaches beyond the surface, seeping into the very core of who we are. It breeds anxiety, depression, and steals away our self-confidence.”  

What allowed for such proliferation of hate speech across the world?  UNDP’s latest research, “Stepping Forward: Parliaments in the Fight Against Hate Speech,” outlines the following three main set of factors. First, socio-economic inequality, misogyny and inter-group hostility. Second, the erosion of public trust in state institutions and political polarization. Third, the decline in the traditional gatekeepers and normalization of extremist views with the rise of social media.  

UNDP addresses these factors by working with key actors to address hate speech through multi-stakeholder partnerships across 49 countries. This includes media, civil society—including youth, women, and faith-based actors—parliaments, and tech companies, among others. As a result, we built community resilience against hate speech and improved the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals in our intervention contexts. Let me now outline three main elements of our work. 

First, through our efforts to amplify alternative and positive narratives to counter hate speech, including through using technology, the arts, and leveraging the power of storytelling, people like Nadja were able to rise above the hateful words and tell her own story. In Iraq, UNDP trained young journalists to promote social cohesion and combat hate speech using citizen journalism tools. As a result, young journalists like Hassan, a 26-year-old media master’s student from Anbar, were able to double down on the commitment of the youth to celebrate diversity and tolerance. In Asia, across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, UNDP empowered youth to identify and report instances of hate speech online, while also fostering the creation of impactful counter-narratives. Now, youth like Tuleshina from Malaysia, who was bullied for her dance videos, feels confident to share her creativity online and inspire others. 

Second, we also are scaling-up programmes to address the drivers and root causes of hate speech, through supporting digital civic education, critical thinking and capacity for community engagement and dialogue in offline and online spaces. UNDP is creating informative systems of meaning for diverse communities, fostering and protecting an open, inclusive, and diverse civic space for the participation of all groups in the political, economic, social and cultural life of their societies. For example, local dialogues organized by UNDP in Montenegro  created safe platforms for young people to exchange their experiences, verbalize the injustices they encounter in everyday life, and take collective action to address them. This empowered people like Kristina, a law student in Montenegro, to examine the causes of hate speech and identify solutions to counter them. As Kristina said, “We are told over and again that this struggle is ours only, a struggle of women”, but “when talking about sexism, we can't only engage girls and women […] Sexism concerns us all.” Per the title of this event, ‘it begins with words and each of us.’ 

Third, we increased awareness of the underlying drivers and impact of hate speech on societies through better monitoring and analysis. For example, in Sri Lanka, UNDP, along with the UNRCO, supported a local CSO to monitor and analyse dangerous speech on social media. Insights from the analysis was used to advocate for the inclusion of provisions on online gender-based violence in a landmark code of practice aimed at improving technology platforms’ accountability for preventing digital harms in Sri Lanka. We are using evidence-based results to support Governments, tech companies and other stakeholders in their efforts to make the digital space more inclusive and safer for all.  

No single government can effectively tackle the issue of online hate speech, violence or mis- and disinformation on its own, just as no one tech company or single civil society or academic alliance should be expected to lead the effort alone. This is a whole-of-society problem, and the shift of the public debate to the digital space presents new challenges and opportunities to entire societies. It is an issue of regulation and responsible business conduct, just as it is an issue of good governance, of educational and societal transformation. Per Our Common Agenda Issue Brief on Information Integrity on Digital Platforms, while mis- and disinformation and hate speech are related but distinct phenomena, both pollute the information ecosystem and threaten human progress.  

Just a few days ago, the Secretary-General called for coordinated international action to make the digital space safer and more inclusive while also protecting human rights, including through the creation of a Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms. In line with this call, UNDP is working on developing a global framework for measuring not only the digital harms but also the impact of our responses to them—utilizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding principle.  

Excellencies and distinguished participants, with all hands on deck to innovate and respond in ways that reflect the complexity of the challenge, we will work together with you, our partners, to pave pathways for a more peaceful future for all.  

 Thank you.