In a major milestone addressing hate speech worldwide, the Global Ministers Conference on addressing hate speech through education on 26 October 2021 convened education authorities at the highest levels to forge consensus on key priorities and coordinated action. Amid the current scrutiny of social media platforms and online hate speech, the meeting presented key conclusions regarding education policy contributing to continuing and long-term efforts to address and counter threats posed by hate speech facing every society.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and UN Secretary-General António Guterres hosted the Conference, with President Hage Geingob of Namibia serving as co-Chair with Director-General Azoulay. Nearly 60 Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Education participated at the event with many others contributing video messages.
The Conference was informed by the Multi-stakeholder Forum, which concluded on 1 October, bringing together civil society organizations, human rights experts, tech and social media companies, and government representatives to identify key recommendations. At both events, organized by UNESCO in partnership with the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and TikTok were represented to discuss hate speech measures, transparency and social responsibility.
“This hatred is not new. But what has changed more recently is the influence and magnitude of social media platforms, which have become an echo chamber that amplifies hate speech,” UNESCO Director-General Azoulay said. “We must therefore step up our efforts to fight all forms of hate speech in schools, by helping teachers address these issues and developing appropriate pedagogical approaches.”
High-level participants at the Conference agreed that hate speech worldwide threatens human rights and social stability, exacerbates conflict and tensions, and contributes to serious human rights violations, including atrocity crimes. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, hateful content, disinformation and conspiracy theories have swept across the globe, aggravating pre-existing biases, harmful stereotypes, intolerance and discrimination – and requiring a holistic approach to addressing hate speech.
The United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech recognizes education as a fundamental tool to address the root causes and drivers of hate speech, and to enable transformative change for peaceful, inclusive and just societies for all in line with the 2030 Agenda.
President Geingob presented the Chair’s key conclusions, which were supported by France, Italy and Rwanda in their respective statements. These findings include:
- First, implement specific educational interventions aimed at explicitly addressing hate speech at all levels of education, with aa lifelong learning perspective.
- Second, develop digital citizenship skills, with proper attention to social and emotional learning, and special emphasis to Media and Information Literacy, as a priority of 21st century education.
- Third, teachers and school leaders at all levels of education must be provided with adequate professional development and training, through an approach that combats discrimination in all its forms and acknowledges and addresses biases.
- Fourth, hate speech must be addressed through cross-curricula interventions and active pedagogies in such ways that the root causes of intolerance and discrimination are tackled and that all forms of discriminatory biases are removed from all educational media.
- Fifth, we must engage in multi-sectoral cooperation by building partnerships with all relevant stakeholders through a whole-of-society approach. This includes first and foremost groups targeted by hate speech but also all relevant public authorities, the civil society as well as the private sector, most notably new and traditional media and internet companies.
The Conference concluded with a statement of support and call to action from Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.
UNESCO, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will continue to support and monitor the implementation of these global priorities in cooperation with Member States and relevant stakeholders. UNESCO will also continue to work with partners, including educators, media and tech companies, and civil society, to raise awareness about the threat of hate speech worldwide and the collective responsibility to take action.