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Study on preventing and combating hate speech in times of crisis

Faloppa, F. ORCID:, Gambacorta, A., Odekerken, R. and van der Noordaa, R., (2023) Study on preventing and combating hate speech in times of crisis. Report. The Council of Europe, Strasbourg. pp54.

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Crises are testing grounds for societies and for their democratic institutions. They can either threaten or reinforce societal cohesion; weaken or consolidate the capacity of governments and elected bodies to respond to voters’ concerns; and suppress or stimulate the reaction of civil society organizations toward new needs and forms of marginalization. Regarding discrimination, crises can intensify hatred and hate speech targeting specific individuals or groups deemed responsible for the crisis, but they can also be aggravated by hate speech when a certain group has been singled out as a threat or an enemy. Hate speech in times of crisis may build on existing discriminatory or hate narratives, but also trigger, and evolve from, new narratives disseminated to respond to such crises. European countries have experienced several crises in the last few years, which have impacted the production, dissemination, and reception of hate speech. The COVID-19 pandemic (“a pandemic of hate” to quote the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres) has globally boosted dynamics of social conflict, polarisation, and radicalization; saw a huge increase in hate speech against individuals and groups (such as Chinese and people of Asian descent, migrants and refugees, and national minorities); revamped antisemitism (via conspiracy theories); intertwined hateful narratives; and intersected grounds of discrimination. Roma and Travellers have also been particularly affected by hate speech in several European countries for both enduring systemic discrimination and for more contextual causes, such as forced marginalization and isolation during lockdowns, and for being singled out as potential plague-spreaders. The full-scale military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine in February 2022 has fostered violent, dehumanizing rhetoric and hate speech both in the countries and – more generally – across Europe, opposing the Russian Federation and “The West” and disseminating hatred against Ukraine, Ukrainian nationals, and refugees from Ukraine through disinformation campaigns. Nationalistic hate speech has triggered and is fuelling the conflict and its circulation also represents a challenge to the media sector and to internet intermediaries, which are asked to disentangle hateful narratives and provide the public with objective information about the Russian Federation’s aggression. At the same time, the war of aggression against Ukraine has also had a negative impact on communities using Russian as their main language, including outside of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The arrivals of migrants and refugees have been labeled in political discourse and by the media as "crises” in the last few years to create a consistent narrative that sees the rise of mixed migration movements to European countries as a cause of uncertainty, threat, and ongoing emergency to states and societies. This coupled with increasing anti-migrant hate speech since the arrival of a large number of refugees from Syria in 2015, together with the fear of contagion and border control during the pandemic has further consolidated a xenophobic discourse, and migrants and refugees remain one of the major targets of hate speech across the continent. Finally, terrorist attacks have fuelled xenophobic feelings, and terror attacks themselves are equally fuelled by intolerance: for example, the attack fomented by homophobia that occurred in the Slovak Republic in 2022. Hatred against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons – and in particular against transgender people – is on the rise all over Europe, which calls for effective institutional interventions to prevent and combat LGBTI-phobia at all levels. Due to such crises, new challenges have emerged for the different actors involved in monitoring, analyzing, preventing, and combating hate speech. From the very definition of hate speech which has confronted new complexities, the urgency of increasing public awareness of disinformation, which is particularly misleading and disruptive in times of crisis, to the need to better work with social media platforms (to get access to data, and foster collaboration with law enforcement) and to create inter-institutional cooperation involving those targeted by hate speech, stakeholders are expressing their concerns and setting their priorities, with the aim of making their approaches more comprehensive. Much has already been done – by various actors and at various levels – to address hate speech in times of crisis, and promising practices across the continent have been tested, such as the implementation of legal measures to combat hate speech, coordinated campaigns online and offline by law enforcement and networks of stakeholders, education and counter-speech initiatives and some actions in support of those targeted by hate speech. However, much still needs to be done, as this report shows, and comprehensive strategies still need to be designed, implemented, and assessed to better tackle hate speech in times of crisis. The recommendations to enhance the fight against hate speech in times of crisis include assessing and amending legal frameworks, as well as reinforcing law enforcement measures. Collaboration among stakeholders needs to be strengthened, including a focus on the role and competencies of specific actors such as media, national human rights institutions, and equality bodies. Making public awareness and information campaigns a priority and providing support to those targeted by hate speech also appear as crucial measures to prevent and combat hate speech in times of crisis. Importantly, it should be recognized that it can be difficult to amend legal frameworks or make substantial policy or practical changes quickly in times of crisis. Therefore, it is essential to take steps to prepare good conditions of social cohesion in ordinary times to ensure a greater level of resilience to discriminatory and hateful speech in times of crisis. In this respect, it is suggested that member states and stakeholders closely follow the recommendations presented in the Recommendation CM/Rec(2022)16 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on combating hate speech.

Item Type:Report (Report)
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Languages and Cultures > Italian
ID Code:114875
Publisher:The Council of Europe


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