Media literacy in the fight against online hate speech

As part of the #MediaSmartOnline campaign, aiming to spotlight media literacy actions across Europe and running in cooperation with the network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) and the Media & Learning Association (MLA) within the framework of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) initiative, we are producing articles on a series of focus topics related to media literacy. This week, we’re diving into online hate speech.

Date 2024-04-09 Author BIK Team Section awareness Topic cyberbullying, hate speech, media literacy/education
Visual identity of the Media Smart Online campaign

There is no one single definition for online hate speech – it affects different communities and groups of individuals in different ways in different parts of the world. It can range from hateful or violent verbal expressions, to (cyber)bullying, and include tangible threats to personal security, as well as a significant impact on the mental health of those affected.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (2022) generally defines hate speech as the following: 

…all types of expression that incite, promote, spread or justify violence, hatred or discrimination against a person or group of persons, or that denigrates them, by reason of their real or attributed personal characteristics or status such as race, colour, language, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Hate speech can be encountered in a series of online and offline settings, including at school (or other educational settings), within online forum-based communities, gaming communities, and social gatherings of all sorts.

Where does the EU stand on hate speech?

The European Commissions has several measures in place to prevent and combat different forms of hatred, and to protect victims, such as:

  • Hate motivated crime and speech are illegal under EU law with the 2008 Framework Decision on combating certain forms of expressions of racism and xenophobia. More recently, in December 2021, the European Commission adopted a Communication which prompts a Council decision to extend the current list of ‘EU crimes’ to hate crimes and hate speech.
  • In December 2023, the Commission and the High Representative adopted a Joint Communication on “No place for hate: a Europe united against hatred”. The Communication aims to step up EU efforts to fight hatred in all its forms, by reinforcing action across a variety of policies. 
  • To further prevent and counter the spread of illegal hate speech online, the EU Code of conduct on counteracting illegal hate speech online was presented in May 2016 as an agreement between the Commission and large online platforms Facebook, Microsoft, X (Twitter at the time), and YouTube. Over the years, a number of other large online platforms joined: Instagram, Snapchat and Dailymotion in 2018, in 2019, TikTok in 2020, and Linked in 202. In 2022, Rakuten Viber and Twitch. 
  • The High Level Group on combating hate speech and hate crime is established since 2016 to foster discussions on common issues to the fight against hate speech and hate crime on all grounds, to facilitate the exchange and dissemination of good practices, and to include both international organisations and civil society in the discussions.

The Commission’s policies pay particular attention also to specific forms experienced by groups and communities, as mentioned in the EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life (2021-2030), anti-Muslim hatred or anti-gypsyism.

More information on how the Commission is combatting hate speech and hate crime is available here.

Projects and resources

  • SELMA – Hacking Hate. The project  SELMA (Social and Emotional Learning for Mutual Awareness) is a two-year project co-funded by the European Commission which aimed to tackle the problem of online hate speech by promoting mutual awareness, tolerance, and respect. It blended media literacy, citizenship education and a SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) approach to empower young people to become agents of change, help them to better understand the phenomenon of online hate, provide them with tools and strategies to act and make a difference. The SELMA Toolkit is available in various languages.
  • The #NOHATEONLINE awareness campaign by BEE SECURE. It is an initiative coordinated by the SNJ, Luxembourg and co-financed by the European Commission. Government involvement was ensured by the Ministry of National Education, Children and Youth, the Ministry of Economy, and the Ministry of Family and Integration, Luxembourg. At the heart of the campaign is the portal containing general recommendations for combating hate speech online, and referring to the BEE SECURE Stopline site to report hate speech. The quiz “Is it okay to say that?” allows users to reflect on the limits of freedom of expression. Throughout the 2022/2023 school year, 2,300 copies of four different posters illustrating positive messages were shared around the country. The campaign has expanded to social media and influencers.
  • Info Interventions: this is a set of approaches, informed by behavioural science research and validated by digital experiments, to build resilience to online harms. Info Interventions is a collection of experiments by Jigsaw that blends ethnographic research with technology experiments to help people build information resilience at critical moments in their online journey, so empowering them to protect themselves from a range of online harms, including misinformation, hate speech, and violent extremism. These provide a methodology for proactively addressing the range of threats to people online.
  • No Hate Speech Movement: the Council of Europe has developed an online compendium with hundreds of resources youth campaigns from across Europe to tackle and raise awareness of hate speech and hate crimes. 
  • Toolkit for Human Rights Speech: also by the Council of Europe, this online toolkit equips you with easy to use tools, checklists and resources. It will help you use counter and alternative narratives to promote human rights and democratic principles that push back against hate speech and discriminatory narratives.   
  • "Ce qui vous regarde… No Hate"  is an educative tool for French speaking educational professionals. It is composed of a DVD and booklet and is designed to raise awareness among young people about online hate and cyber-bullying.
  • Countering hate speech: resources from UNESCO on understanding and countering hate speech online and offline.

On the side of industry, we can highlight:

  • Jigsaw: Jigsaw is a unit within Google that explores threats to open societies and builds technology that inspires scalable solutions. The team look for high-impact interventions, where focusing on helping a specific group of people — journalists, civil society, or activists, for example — makes the internet and society stronger and safer for everyone. Focus areas address some of the most complex challenges facing open societies, such as disinformation, censorship, toxicity (toxic language online), and violent extremism.

Don’t miss out on the publication of the MediaSmartOnline campaign materials: check the campaign page regularly and follow the #MediaSmartOnline hashtag to see the campaign roll out on social media.

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