Everything you wanted to ask about hate speech but didn’t

10 Nov 2020 11:20h - 12:20h

Event report

The session discussed the European approach towards hate speech, taking the approach that hate speech is a complex issue and needs to be addressed through a comprehensive approach.

Mr Bastiaan Winkel (Policy Advisor, Ministry of Justice and Security, The Netherlands; vice chair, Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech, Council of Europe) classified hate speech into three categories: (1) hate speech that is illegal by international standards; (2) hate speech that is not illegal, but harmful to specific groups and individuals based on protected characteristics; and (3) hate speech that is not harmful to a specific group, but is undesirable in a democratic society.

To address hate speech and its consequences, Winkel described the need to consider the human rights framework and the negative and positive obligations of states. He added that different categories of hate speech require different, yet complementary means of address.

While drafting hate speech regulations, there is a need to ensure that human rights standards and human rights frameworks are protected, taking into account everyone concerned, the national context, the local context, personal contexts, and the need to adopt differentiated approaches, noted Mr Menno Ettema (Programme Manager, Anti-Discrimination Department, Council of Europe (CoE); Co-secretariat, Committee of Experts on Combating Hate).

Winkel outlined the comprehensive approach taken by the Council of Europe to combat hate speech. The Council of Europe recommends preventative measures such as education; the use of counter speech to raise awareness of the risks that hate speech poses to democracy and human rights; other self and co-regulatory approaches to content moderation; online governance; and implementation of national criminal and administrative legislation covering hate speech in the online environment.

Summarising the discussion of preventive measures that can be taken to address hate speech, Mr Martin Mlynár (Chairman, SocialUp) highlighted the importance of education and media literacy, building bridges between different groups or communities, making people aware that what they do online matters, and promoting best practices and good examples, such as the Smart Hero Award in Germany.

On the issue of self or co-regulation, concerns were raised regarding the way in which regulations affect content; the way states have addressed the issue; and the capability of machines to remove content while respecting human rights. Questions were raised regarding the extent to which online platforms can address hate speech, given the sheer volume; how a context can be properly taken into account based on policies; and whether practices are in line with international human rights law. Addressing the issue of hate speech by encouraging companies to adopt a multisector approach was suggested. For independent oversight of content moderation decisions, the examples of social media councils and a system of equals were suggested.

In regard to using national criminal and administrative legislation covering hate speech in the online environment, different issues need to be addressed in different ways. While Internet service providers feel the necessity for regulations, they are hard pressed to cope and abide by multiple laws in different jurisdictions and suggest the adoption of a unified and clear European or worldwide definition on what is allowed or not allowed on the Internet. The concerns raised by users emphasised balancing anonymity on the Internet with obligations to make clear with whom you are talking. The critical issue for governments is to understand at what point they need to intervene.