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Companies Failing to Address Offline Harm Incited by Online Hate – Rights Experts

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The report comes at a time when social media giant Facebook, which owns another popular social platform, Instagram, has reportedly been pushed to address violent content spreading on its services, in addition to false news reports and disinformation, which has prompted discussion around the role of social media overall in the spread of hate messages.
22 Oct 2019 11:26
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States and internet companies have failed to combat online hate which is slowly manifesting into offline harm on individuals, David Kaye, an independent rights expert on freedom of speech and expression has said.

Kaye cautioned that the world faces real dangers posed by a lack of consistent policy when it comes to monitoring and stamping out hate speech in the digital age. He pointed out that unfortunately, States and companies are failing to prevent ‘hate speech’ from becoming the next fake news, an ambiguous and politicized term subject to governmental abuse and company discretion.  

His comments come ahead of the launch of a landmark report to reinforce legal standards for internet spaces. In the report, Kaye expresses particular concern about governments that use hate speech to restrict legitimate expression under the guise of blasphemy or fail to define and enforce hate speech rules according to human rights law’s rigorous standards of legality, necessity and proportionality, and legitimacy. 

According to Kaye, New laws imposing liability on companies are failing basic standards and companies are not taking seriously their responsibilities to respect human rights, despite hate speech fermenting on their platforms. He cautions that online hate with the speed of reach of its dissemination can incite grave offline harm. 

The report comes at a time when social media giant Facebook, which owns another popular social platform, Instagram, has reportedly been pushed to address violent content spreading on its services, in addition to false news reports and disinformation, which has prompted discussion around the role of social media overall in the spread of hate messages. 

Kaye said that Facebook’s failure to recognize their power and impact and to value shareholders over public interest must end immediately. 

He urges States to meet their obligations by turning to key human rights treaties and the leading interpretations of human rights law by the Human Rights Committee and the 2013 Rabat Plan of Action. He also provides companies with a roadmap for tackling online hate according to basic principles of human rights law.    

However, the Report highlights the absence of human rights impact assessments at all stages of product development, the vagueness of company rules, and the lack of transparency of company processes. 

“Governments and the public have legitimate concerns about online hate,” the Special Rapporteur added, “but new laws that impose liability on companies are failing basic standards, increasing the power of those same private actors over public norms, and risk undermining free expression and public accountability. 

UN experts addressed the scourge in an open letter last month, warning that hate speech, both online and offline has exacerbated societal and racial tensions, inciting attacks with deadly consequences around the world and highlighted the correlation between exposure to hate speech and number of crimes committed as a result. 

The United Nations Security Council is now finalizing a Strategy and Plan of Action that targets the root causes of hate speech - from violence, marginalization, discrimination and poverty, and advises bolstering weak national institutions.

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