Threshold test on hate speech now available in 32 languages


 Brazilian mural artist Eduardo Kobra's recent work

A "practical and useful tool" in the fight against incitement to hatred and violence has been translated in 32 languages.

The one-page document provides a six-part threshold test to assess if a particular statement reaches the level of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The threshold test, which was first released by the UN Human Rights Office in 2018, is now available not only in the six official UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) but also in translations such as Amharic, Burmese, Hindi, Hungarian, Sinhala, Swahili, Tamil and Urdu.  

"Human rights standards are not only addressed to lawyers but need to find their way into the real world," said Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the human rights treaties branch of United Nations Human Rights. "The threshold test extracted from the Rabat Plan of Action speaks to everyone, through the online platforms where individuals across the globe interact on a daily basis in different languages."

Most of the 32 translations were undertaken by Facebook, in collaboration with United Nations Human Rights. Miranda Sissons, director of human rights product policy at Facebook, stressed the practical importance of the threshold test.

"Facebook's Community Standards are rooted in the principles of voice, safety, dignity, privacy and authenticity," she said. "We're pleased to support the translation of the Rabat Threshold test – an important guide to balancing those principles – into multiple languages. It's part of our commitment to the responsibilities set forth under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."

In a statement on the "tsunami of hate" since the start of the pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on "the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and, in line with international human rights law, remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content."

Scott Campbell, Senior Human Rights and Technology Officer, said the threshold test is more timely than ever, during the current coronavirus pandemic and the related spread of hate. He hoped that technology companies, particularly social media companies, increase using international human rights standards like the Rabat Plan of Action in their content-moderation policies.

"The Rabat test is a tool that can be easily understood, even though it addresses a complex human rights issue. It is a tool that can be used by any social media company, such as Twitter or YouTube, as a framework for examining when a post or image merits a restriction," Campbell said. 

The threshold test is part of the Rabat Plan of Action on incitement to hatred, which was adopted in 2012. It makes several recommendations to States, media, companies, civil society and faith-based actors on how to best deal with any tensions that may arise between freedom of expression and the prohibition of incitement to violence. 

The Rabat framework test lays out six parameters to check if a statement may amount to a criminal offence. On a case-by-case basis, the test looks into the context, speaker, intent, content, extent of the speech, and likelihood of harm.

"Think of the Rabat test as a surgeon's tool, which also preserves freedom of expression", Salama said. "Across the world we see two extremes: on the one hand, 'real' incitement cases are not prosecuted, while on the other hand peaceful critics are persecuted as 'hate preachers'. So the threshold test is precisely about finding the fine line between free speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence", Salama said.

Is the Rabat test available in your language? You can find the 32 translations here.

 15 May 2020


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