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UN releases online ‘hate speech’ guide

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The global body has called for social media users to tattle on purveyors of “harmful content”

The United Nations has taken to Twitter in a new campaign to battle speech that it finds objectionable, urging social media users to push back against hateful content and report offenders to police and other authorities in extreme cases.

“Hate speech can take many different forms,” the UN said on Sunday. “But no matter what it looks like, hate speech has real consequences.” The tweet linked to a guide on steps that the UN recommends for taking action against offensive speech.

The global organization didn’t spell out what constitutes hate speech. “It can sometimes be hard to assess when a comment is meant as hate speech, especially when expressed in the virtual world,” the tutorial said. “It can also feel overwhelming to try to deal with obviously hateful content.”

The UN has previously defined hate speech as “offensive discourse targeting a group or an individual based on inherent characteristics  such as race, religion or gender  and that may threaten social peace.” Earlier this month, it declared June 18 as International Day for Countering Hate Speech

“We are far from powerless in the face of hate speech,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said. “We can and must raise awareness about its dangers and work to prevent and end it in all its forms.”  

The campaign comes amid a global crackdown on hate speech, including legislation in Ireland that reportedly could allow for the jailing of citizens who possess material that criticizes gender identity. Legislation passed this month by lawmakers in Michigan would enable prosecutors to criminally charge people who make others feel threatened based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The UN urged social media users to refrain from posting or forwarding any hateful content themselves and to speak out when other people are targeted by such messaging. The tutorial called for refuting misinformation and offensive content “to make sure hate is not the dominant narrative,” as well as reporting hateful commentators to social media platforms.

“For more serious cases  which may constitute incitement to violence, harassment and/or threats prohibited by law notify organizations fighting hate speech and/or file a complaint with police or the public prosecutor,” the UN said. “Some countries have online tools to make reporting hate speech easier.”

Such countries as Sweden, Denmark and Belgium have online reporting systems for hate speech. In Sweden, for instance, “mean statements about an ethnic group or a group of people alluding to race, skin tone, ethnic background, belief or sexual orientation” can constitute a criminal offense, according to a government-funded group Nathatshjalpen.

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