NEW YORK (1 November 2018) – Social media and other digital platforms are being used to disseminate hate speech and incite violence, as well as to recruit, network and fundraise for Neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, a UN expert on racism said.
In a report to the General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteur Tendayi Achiume cited the dramatic rise of racist websites to more than 14,000 in 2011 – from only three in 1995 – and a 600 percent increase of white nationalist movements espousing their views on Twitter since 2012.
“At the core of neo-Nazism ideologies lies a hatred of Jews, as well as many other racial, ethnic, and religious groups. These ideologies also vilify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and persons with disabilities, and in some cases women,” Achiume said.
“This growing climate of intolerance has tangible, horrific impacts on human lives as witnessed during the anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburg on 27 October 2018,” she added.
The expert said the largely unregulated, decentralised, cheap and anonymous nature of the Internet had allowed extremist groups to form networks across borders and amplify their hate-filled messages. Technology companies such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook needed to ensure their platforms did not continue to provide a safe haven for extremist mobilisations.
Condemning the spread of extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial “news” on all forms of social media against targeted groups, the Special Rapporteur urged the implementation of the principles of international and regional human rights frameworks to tackle racist hate speech, racist organisations and the promotion of racist ideologies and propaganda.
Achiume also observed that populist political parties and their elected officials had mainstreamed incitement to discrimination and hatred. “Nationalist populism operates on an exclusionary and racialised vision of who qualifies as a nation’s rightful people, and stokes societal fury against all those who do not meet this narrow definition,” she said.
“Nationalist populism marginalises and discriminates against individuals and communities on the basis of their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, descent, national origin, social origin, and even their disability or migration status.”
The Special Rapporteur said populist-led policies also have racially discriminatory structural and long-term effects. “Ascendant nationalist populist ideologies and strategies not only fuel hatred but also threaten racial equality by creating institutions and structures that will have enduring legacies of racial exclusion. It often affects racial equality across numerous human rights, including rights to vote, to participate in political processes, to bodily security, to health care, to education, and to access public goods and social services,” she said.
The rights to equality and freedom of expression should be seen as symbiotic and mutually reinforcing, she said, and “should not be pitted against each other in a competitive or zero-sum manner”.
“Action is required by more States to implement anti-hate speech laws and ensure equality and non-discrimination including online, in accordance with international human rights law,” Achiume said.
The Special Rapporteur called on Member States and technology companies to work collaboratively to combat incitement to hatred and discrimination with a particular focus on the digital sphere.
“Criminal and civil penalties alone will not put an end to racial and xenophobic intolerance,” she said. “A State’s first step must be explicit recognition that the proliferation of nationalist populist mobilisations and Neo-Nazi groups threaten racial equality.”
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Ms E. Tendayi Achiume (Zambia) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in September 2017. Ms. Achiume is currently a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society (ACMS), at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
The Special Rapporteurs 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. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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