We have seen the proliferation of hate speech, misinformation and disinformation especially in these COVID-19 times. It’s not retreating but in full assault mode all over the globe. We have seen its deleterious effects. Violence instead of peace. Exclusion, discrimination and deepening inequality instead of inclusion, tolerance and respect and fairness.
The United Nations considers hate speech “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.” And last July, the United Nations put forth a resolution disavowing it in any form and on any platform.
The world must not trample on freedom of speech and expression, but when that speech is weaponized to violate the rights of others—including inciting atrocity crimes and acts of terrorism, it must not be met with deafening silence that implies apathy or acceptance. Even if hate speech is allowed under law—when it does not rise to the level of incitement of violence prohibited by international law—its consequences cannot be underestimated.
UNFPA’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign The Virtual is Real focuses on digital violence, which includes online hate speech, that serves to terrorize, dehumanize and silence. Not only must women and girls feel safe in all spaces, everyone has that right.