How do we fight intolerance and hate speech online while we preserve freedom of speech? This was the topic of the conference in Budapest 27-28 November. It drew speakers like Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland of the Council of Europe, George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundations and Hungary’s Minister of Human Resources Zoltan Balog.
“Dealing with hate speech is an important issue for the Council of Europe. But for me, and my Norwegian colleagues here today, it is much more than that: it is personal, said Secretary General Jagland, alluding to the Utøya massacre in Norway July 22, 2011 were 77 youngsters were brutally killed by a militant extremist.
“They were victims of the ultimate consequence of hate speech. Utøya was a painful reminder that hate speech - online or offline - is real”, continued Jagland as he called for political leaders to assume greater responsibility.
Hate speech a first step of extremism
The purpose of the conference was to look at the scope of hate speech, primarily in social media in Europe, and to explore different methods of combating this.
Closing remarks were given by Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Torgeir Larsen. He too emphasised that hate speech is a tool of extremism and that extreme utterances can lead to extreme actions. Making lists, for instance, is a symbolic first step towards making a visible distinction between us and them – a division that can ultimately and in extreme cases lead to deportation and death, said the Deputy Minister with reference to both Norway’s deportation of Jews during WWII and Jobbik’s recent statements in the Hungarian Parliament.
To best enlighten this topic the conference featured a range of viewpoints from an extensive group of social researchers, experienced politicians, young bloggers and committed activists. These represented organizations like Amnesty International, the United Nations and the International Network against Cyber-Hate.
Bloggers and activists in action
The Council of Europe’s coming youth campaign on tackling hate speech was presented. As were two new publications from the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency on hate crime and the victimization of minorities.
Organizers of the conference were the Council of Europe and the EEA and Norway Grants together with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The conference was preceded by two days of workshops on combating hate speech attended by several young bloggers and activists. Their conclusions were presented at the conference.
To see the conference web pages at the Council of Europe, click here.
To see the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ web pages on the conference, click here (in Norwegian).