Silencing the hate: How UNDP is empowering youth to counter online hate speech

June 18, 2024
Young people posing for a photo, holding up peace signs

UNDP works with youth to address hate speech by promoting positive narratives to counter divisive ones.

Photo: Mohlang Creatives

"If we want other people to respect us and not use derogatory remarks about our food habits, cultural practices or appearances, we should create awareness about cultural diversities,’’ says Preety Tanchanya, an undergraduate student and a member of an Indigenous community from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in southeastern Bangladesh. 

Observing social exclusion among youths in her community, Preety and her group of friends created an online platform, “SAABA”, on social media to counter online hate comments through positive messages of cultural diversity. In the Indigenous languages of Tanchangya and Chakma, "SAABA" means shadow.

With similar experience in another part of the globe, Selma Drini, a young activist from the Roma community in Montenegro, says, “hate speech contributes to social division, fostering hostile attitudes… We must communicate the consequences of hate speech and collectively promote respect for diversity.” 

Selma Drini

Selma Drini, a young activist from the Roma community in Montenegro, works to communicate the consequences of hate speech.

Photo:Duško Miljanić

In commemoration of the 3rd International Day of Countering Hate Speech, UNDP celebrates the efforts of youth around the world such as Preety and Selma who are using their voices and digital skills to challenge hate narratives and promote peace online.

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, approximately 70 percent of those targeted by online hate and violence belong to minority groups, including Roma, Dalits, persons of African descent, migrants and refugees. Moreover, in today's digital age, online hate speech is a growing threat to peace, tolerance and social cohesion. Hateful messages disguised as memes, comments and social media posts spread like wildfire on online platforms, targeting marginalized groups, creating a climate of division and inciting violence. The rise of artificial intelligence presents both threats and opportunities, adding to the complexity currently faced by the youth population.

Collage of student artwork on countering hate speech

Student artwork depicts Muslims visiting a Hindu shop located beside a mosque and children from different religions are brothers.

Photos: UNDP Bangladesh

UNDP works alongside youth to address hate speech through promoting positive narratives to counter hate speech. Tailored toolkits for citizens, youth, civil society and media are designed to effectively tackle hate speech. For instance, UNDP Kyrgyzstan developed a manual “From Hate Speech to Non-Violent Communication", providing practical examples of identifying hate speech and illustrating its transformation into non-violent communication.  

Hate speech thrives in silence. However, UNDP fosters the creation of safe spaces for open, constructive and respectful conversations where diverse voices can be heard. Through the “NextGeneration (#NextGen) Movement” in Montenegro, UNDP works with youth as advocates for gender equality and against hate speech.   

"Hate speech is just the illusion of powerlessness of the person it is directed at and the illusion of power for the person who uses it. This illusion is like glass — it appears dangerous but can be easily shattered once we realize that power is in our hands, the hands which carry the knowledge, respect and legacy of all the women before us who have paved the way for us to shatter this glass wall,” says Marija Pešić, a young journalist from Montenegro.

marija pesic

Marija Pešić, a young journalist from Montenegro, believes in spreading knowledge and respect to counter hate speech.

Photo: Duško Miljanić

Promoting alternative narratives against hate allows communities to stay ahead of the curve to address the risk of conflict. Under the "Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism in the Atlantic Corridor" project, radio discussions reached over 70,000 listeners, raising awareness of violent conflict causes and the negative impact of discrimination.  

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, through the "Partnerships for a More Tolerant, Inclusive Bangladesh" project, the flagship Digital Khichuri Challenge hackathon, empowers youth like Bandhan Das. His “Harmony Unites” campaign on Facebook uses art to spread tolerance and community benefits. “Many people reached out to us to appreciate our efforts as they experienced mental trauma by being subjected to derogatory remarks in the digital space,” said Bandhan.

Young man speaking during a meeting

Youth activists like Jovan Džoli Ulićević can be powerful agents of change in the fight against online hate speech.

Photo: Miloš Vujović

Young people are not just victims of online hate speech; they are also powerful agents of change. UNDP is proud to support youth-led initiatives that are making a difference. Jovan Džoli Ulićević, an activist from Montenegro says “[hate speech] doesn't discourage me but rather motivates me not to give up and not allow it to silence me.” 

For information on UNDP’s work on countering hate speech, please visit our website or contact Helena Sterwe, Team Leader, Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding, at