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How UNESCO Plans to Check Hate Speech on Social Media

UNESCO “Social Media 4 Peace” Project. Photo: UNESCO

UNESCO “Social Media 4 Peace” Project. Photo: UNESCO

The overall objective of the UNESCO project “Social Media 4 Peace” is to strengthen the resilience of societies to potentially harmful content spread online, in particular hate speech inciting violence while protecting freedom of expression and enhancing the promotion of peace through digital technologies, notably social media.

According to UNESCO, the increasing digitalization of societies worldwide has led to unprecedented opportunities for the free flow of information. But there are growing concerns about how digital communication tools have become instrumental platforms to spread harmful content with a significant impact on conflict dynamics and peace. 

Apart from spreading hate, social media is also increasingly used to spread disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda designed to mislead a population.

The moderation and curation rules of online, potentially harmful content are mostly discussed at the global level in a “one size fits all” fashion. Yet, the complexity of addressing online, potentially harmful content lies in the impossibility to define precisely the boundaries of the type of content covered irrespective of the context. 

This is why the project foresees to, in addition to using human rights principles as a universal baseline, take into account social, cultural, and linguistic nuances to develop and review content moderation and curation rules and tools in a localized manner.

Moreover, digital technologies, in particular social media, are not systematically used in peace-building processes, although there are few recent examples of organizations and campaigns that have successfully mobilized social media to empower people, notably the youth, to allow an inclusive dialogue on issues such as climate change. 

This is why the project will maximize digital technologies’ potential to promote initiatives and narratives that create incentives for peace rather than violence to become a critical element of peace-building.

This new project – funded by the European Union – is aligned with UNESCO’s overall strategy to combat disinformation by fostering the information as a public good and strengthening the transparency of the internet ecosystem. 

The project will contribute to the achievement of SDG 16, to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and to the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech launched by UN Secretary General António Guterres to combat the online disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism, and intolerance.

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