On 15 October, our member ARCI Nazionale organised a conference titled ‘The rise of online hate speech as a new alarming global social phenomenon: Reasons and Remedies’. The conference was part of the ‘REACT - Respect and Equality: Acting and Communicating Together’ project, which unites 12 organisations from Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK, under the coordination of ARCI.
The conference heard a lecture on the development of hate speech, and the delayed legal response to it, by Dr. Federico Faloppa, of the University of Reading, UK. The amount of damage that our speech can produce in an age in which social media serves as public platform for everyone, as well as an echo chamber, means that more attention must be paid to the underlying meaning of words and how these impact the most vulnerable in society, by simply reinforcing damaging stereotypes. The legal architecture relevant for hate speech must be updated, it must change to keep pace with the shapeshifting nature of communication in an age where the line between the digital and the physical realm is blurring.
The lecture fuelled the subsequent discussions, at which MEPs Pietro Bartolo and Massimiliano Smeriglio were joined by representatives from UNESCO, Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Commission. European policymakers were challenged by the conference audience to reflect on the current efforts by their institutions to regulate digital giants such as Facebook and Google, and the proliferation of hate speech within their platforms, but also to consider the pernicious impact of such rhetoric aimed by European far-right politicians at the migrants and refugees arriving on the shores of Europe.
SOLIDAR Foundation welcomes the efforts of civil society to challenge the lethargy of the European policymakers when it comes to hate speech and migration, and calls on all actors involved in the fight against cyberbullying and hate speech to join efforts in pressuring EU institutions for a more comprehensive policy approach to such issues. Until then, the toolkit offered as a project outcome for REACT offers ideas on introducing civic education and digital citizenship courses within schools, providing best practice examples on how this has been done. Education is the bedrock that is needed to provide people with the necessary skills and competences to be aware of their rights, to ensure personal development, and to allow people to become active citizens in society, respectful of diversity. Read more about the REACT project here.