Mobilizing the community to action

16 December 2020 9.00 am EST | 3.00 pm CET - Online

History has shown that hate speech often precedes the commission of serious human rights violations and mass atrocities. A decade ago, social media was an agent of positive change, enabling democratic movements, giving access to new knowledge, and empowering communities around the world. However, by revolutionizing the way we communicate, the Internet and social media have also considerably amplified the rise of hate-fuelled rhetoric and polarization that we have seen in recent years.

The Decoding Hate Speech online series was launched on 1 September with the aim to increase the understanding of and raise awareness about online hate speech within the atrocity prevention community and beyond in the lead up to GAAMAC IV, a global meeting taking place in November 2021 which will address hate speech, incitement and discrimination.

To set the stage, the first session sought to reflect on the concept “hate speech”. Although there is no legal definition of hate speech, panellists stressed the need to understand what is prohibited and clearly defined by international law, such as incitement to violence, and underline the need to defend freedom of speech. One of the main takeaways was the importance of promoting early education in order to confront hate speech, build resilience and civic responsibility.

Exploring the links between technology and hate speech, the second session focused on the rise of online hate on social media platforms. Panellists underlined the need for more regulations of or self-regulation by social media companies and encouraged the use of technology for monitoring hate speech as an early warning indicator and to promote counter-narratives.   

Through the case study of Myanmar, the speakers of the third session explored the real-world consequences of online hate by looking at widespread disinformation, incitement to violence and in particular sexual and gender-based violence against the Rohingya on Facebook. While the social media giant is making some efforts to regulate content, panellists agreed Facebook still hosts hateful content and emphasized online hate is not only a problem in fragile countries but also in long-standing democracies.

Understanding, identifying and addressing online hate speech is a major national and international challenge that requires coalitions and common action. It can only be addressed if states, civil society and the private sector share the responsibility and work together instead of acting in silos. At a time when trust in democratic processes and governments is particularly fragile, this seems arduous, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have accelerated the rise of hate speech and disinformation online.

How can atrocity prevention actors contribute to countering online hate and incitement to violence? What are some of the good practices, lessons learned and approaches that can be implemented at the national, regional levels and international levels? What are some of the concrete steps that we can take as a community in the lead up to GAAMAC IV? How can we mobilize our communities at national level? Since common efforts and engagement are needed, how can we build trustful relationships between government, private sector and civil society actors?

The last session of the “Decoding Hate Speech” series will look at the concrete steps that can be taken by the atrocity prevention community at national and regional levels to address this complex and ever-changing challenge. Atrocity prevention experts will share good practices, lessons learned and recommendations from the Asia-Pacific, Americas and Africa and pave the way for concrete action against online hate speech. Participants will also be invited to share their experiences and approaches with others.

Moderator and introductory remarks:

  • Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, GAAMAC Chair


  • Liberata Mulamula, Patron of the GAAMAC Africa Working Group
  • Noel Morada, Director of Regional Diplomacy and Capacity Building, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • Shara Duncan, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
  • Kyle Matthews, Executive Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS)