UN independent rights expert on freedom of speech and expression David Kaye has said that states and companies are failing to prevent ‘hate speech’ from becoming the next ‘fake news,’ an ambiguous term subject to the governmental abuse and company discretion.
Ahead of the launch of a landmark report to reinforce legal standards for internet spaces, he said that prevalence of the online hate poses challenges to everyone, first and foremost the marginalized individuals who are its principal targets.
Last month, UN experts addressed the scourge in an open letter, warning that hate speech, both online and offline has exacerbated societal and racial tensions, inciting attacks with deadly consequences around the world and highlighted the correlation between exposure to hate speech and number of crimes committed as a result.
David Kaye said that the prevalence of online hate first and foremost challenges marginalized individuals and these individuals are its principal targets. In June, the UN secretary-general put forth a new plan to identify and confront the growing scourge, which António Guterres noted was launched at a time of a groundswell in xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism.
He also said that hateful and destructive views are amplified exponentially through digital technology. The UN Strategy and Plan of Action targets the root causes of hate speech – from violence, marginalization, discrimination, and poverty, and advises bolstering weak national institutions.
Echoing the UN chief, David Kaye stressed that online hate is no less harmful because it is online. On the contrary, online hate, with the speed of reach of its dissemination, can incite grave offline harm, he said, adding that the question is not whether to address such abuse. “It is how to do so in a way that respects the rights everyone enjoys,” he said.
The report urges states meet their obligations by rooting their efforts in rights’ treaties and international human rights law, in accordance with the UN Human Rights Committee, and the 2013 Rabat Plan of Action, a framework by the UN human rights office which aims to clarify state obligations prohibiting incitement of hatred and discrimination.
David Kaye said that the new laws imposing liability on companies are failing basic standards. He said the companies are not taking seriously their responsibilities to respect human rights, despite hate speech fermenting on their platforms. In the new report, the roadmap to tackling online hate also underscores the impact of leaving human rights best practices out of company culture.
The human rights community has had a long-term conversation with social media and other companies in the Internet economy, the independent expert said, and yet the companies remain stubbornly committed to policies that fail to articulate their actions according to basic norms of human rights law.
The landmark report comes at a time when social media giant Facebook, which also owns the Instagram platform, has reportedly been pushed to address violent content spreading on its services, in addition to false news reports and disinformation, which has prompted discussion around the role of social media overall in the spread of hate messages.
David Kaye said that the companies’ failure to recognize their power and impact and to value shareholders over public interest, must end immediately. “This report gives the companies the tools to change course,” he said. The special rapporteurs and the working groups are part of what is known as the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.