World

Hate speech spreading like wildfire through social media: UN Chief

United Nations: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern over the rise of racism and intolerance in liberal democracies and authoritarian states, and said hate speech is “spreading like wildfire” through social media.

“I am deeply alarmed by the current rise of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, fed increasingly by nationalist and populist ideologies,” Guterres said.

Hate speech is entering the “mainstream, spreading like wildfire through social media and radio. We are seeing it spread in liberal democracies and authoritarian states alike”, he said at an event at the UN General Assembly on Monday.

The event was held to commemorate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Guterres recalled the New Zealand mosque terrorist attack in which 50 people were killed by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman as “the latest tragedy rooted in such poison.”

The UN Chief had last Friday visited the Islamic Center in New York to show solidarity and express his outrage.

“Today and every day, we must stand united against racial and religious hatred and the terrorism of bigots,” he said.

Guterres observed the Day to renew the “promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and anti-semitism.”

He voiced concern that “no country or community is immune” to the rising xenophobia and racism, emphasising that “these dark forces” menace democratic values, social stability and peace, and stigmatize women, minorities, migrants and refugees.

“When people are attacked, physically, verbally or on social media, because of their race, religion or ethnicity, all of society is diminished. It is crucial for all of us to join hands, stand up and defend the principles of equality and human dignity,” Guterres said.

In order to combat hate speech, and “defend the principles of equality and human dignity,” he asked his special adviser on the prevention of genocide, AdamaDieng, to coordinate a strategy and plan of action for the UN system.

“We need to engage everyone in dismantling the harmful and specious notion of racial superiority” he said, emphasising that the recent surge of neo-Nazi thinking and white supremacist ideology must be buried “once and for all.”

This step can be supported by national legislation, which promotes non-discrimination, and by politicians and religious leaders, who speak out against intolerance and hate speech, Guterres said.

“We are all connected by our humanity. We are all equal. We should all be looking out for each other’s welfare,” he said.

General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa pointed to an observation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that populists rely on demonising the “other”, saying that across the world, “populists are exploiting the legitimate grievances of those who feel left behind.”

“Hate speech isn’t free speech. It’s racism,” she said, adding that blaming problems on migrants must be pushed back and short-sighted nationalism must not be allowed to derail the search for global solutions.

“The challenges we face require global co-operation like never before.

“Multilateralism makes us stronger, not weaker. The 2030 Agenda is a framework all governments can use to respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens,” Espinosa said.

Separately in his message to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Guterres called on the international community to raise awareness of the dangers of racism and “stand up against old and new forms of slavery.”

“Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were among history’s most appalling manifestations of human brutality,” he told delegates from across the world gathered in the General Assembly Hall with a call for “justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent.” (PTI)

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