Internet Governance Forum

Last week, the 13th Internet Governance Forum was hosted in Paris, France.  This year’s theme was “Internet of Trust” and was quite a timely topic seeing that the conference was held the same week as the 100-year celebration of Armistice Day. I found the panel titled, “WS80 Hack the Hate: Empower Society to Face Hate Speech-RAW,” to be extremely fascinating seeing the prevalence of hate speech in our world today.  This 90-minute session addressed important policy issues and operational responses like:

  • Hate speech regulations and “the grey area”
  • The complementary approach between States initiatives, platforms, and civil society’s involvement; and
  • Digital literacy.

The emergence of the internet, and more recently social networks, has considerably altered the way ideas are produced and how they circulate.  This panel argued that by broadening the ways the population can express themselves and take part in many different debates, on a global scale, society’s digital networking “paves the way for a real discursive democracy.”  However, panelists argued that despite the democratic and communication progress it represents, this new digital environment also marks the end of “gatekeepers” – until then considered the most credible ‘institutions’ to express public opinions –  and the emergence of new discriminatory public opinions on the internet platform.

Therefore, xenophobic, racist, sexistgroups that have not previously had access to public platforms and could not practice public speech due to social public norms, have developed into a terrifying and forceful voice on the Internet.

This panel addressed the fact that the current approach, which prioritizes regulation of the issue by focusing resources on law-making, faces major obstacles.  Tonei Glavinic, the Director of operations of the Dangerous Speech Project, discussed the shortfalls and quirks of the internet law regulation.  He also presented the Dangerous speech concept as: “any form of expression (speech, text, or images) that can increase the risk that its audience will condone or participate in violence against members of another group. We have observed striking similarities in the rhetoric that leaders use to provoke violence in completely different countries, cultures, and historical periods. One of these rhetorical ‘hallmarks’ or recurring patterns is dehumanization.”

A discussion I found to be extremely fascinating was the one held on the difficulty to differentiate hate speech from the freedom to tell an unpopular opinion. Social media platforms give us the ability to communicate with loved ones worldwide but has also given rise to polarizing discourses.  As discussed in class, there is no sort of global governance regime of this space- there is not yet a model to make governments, public sector, and civil society actors work together to combat hate speech.

During this panel, an agreement was made that regulation can’t be the only solution to tackle hate speech. It was argued that while the removal of hate content has been at the heart of government initiatives, content removal can’t be the only answer to this problem. There are wider challenges in terms of free speech that must be looked into.

Due to the evolving kinds of online platforms, collaboration and education must be addressed as a part of the solution to removing hate speech from the internet. On the one hand, collaboration between civil society, academics, governments and private sector has been recognized by all speakers as one of the most important steps to tackle hate speech. Through education, resilience to social harms can be built.

The three key messages that the panelists wanted us to take away from this event were:

  • “It is a difficult task to define what a hate speech is and, therefore particularly difficult to adapt a specific and pertinent answer to that crisis.”
  • “No sector alone can manage these challenges, and this requires a holistic approach.”
  • “It is necessary to educate all stakeholders (citizens, corporations, policy makers, and individuals) as part of a broader solution.”

Building off the topics discussed in in the panel, how do you get the world to think about a topic in the same way? We can look to international regime theory for some answers. International conferences play a key role because they bring together individuals to establish principles and common goals. The High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development did just that.  On September 23, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly convened a High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development at the level of Heads of State and Government, with the overarching theme, “The way forward: a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.”  This high-level meeting, where important inclusion issues were discussed, gave world leaders the opportunity to take decisions towards improving the health, well-being, and inclusion of people with disabilities.  Additionally, the High-level Meeting resulted in an action-oriented outcome document (the SDGs) in support of the aims of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the improvement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A key benefit of these kinds of global frameworks are the convergence of principles, norms, and decision making practices that result from global leaders coming together to address crucial issues.