Safer Internet Day 2019 in Portugal: Online for human rights

  • Awareness
  • 18/03/2019
  • Portuguese Safer Internet Centre

The Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) commemorated Safer Internet Day (SID) 2019 by promoting a series of activities and resources. The planning started early to organise an event called "Online for human rights" which encountered a wide audience, both among the general public and among policymakers who have an influence on the internet governance sphere in the country. As Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General for the Council of Europe put it, "hate speech has become one of the most common forms of intolerance and xenophobia in Europe today (…) When the unacceptable starts to be accepted, becomes "the norm", there is a true threat to human rights".

In line with the SID slogan, "Together for a better internet" – which emphasises that all stakeholders have a role to play in guaranteeing a safe and empowering digital space for children and young people – the Portuguese event was based on the premise that human rights should be acknowledged as a shared responsibility, and not just something that is promoted by a handful of institutions and NGOs.

"Online for human rights" was the starting point of the SID celebrations in Portugal, emphasising the importance of being better humans online who think critically about online expressions of prejudice and hate speech. We must acknowledge what our values are, as humans of the 21st century, and what we can do to counter the various phenomena threatening these values.

Nowadays, one would expect that hate speech, prejudice, racism and xenophobia are obsolete words, but in fact they are still very present, in various contexts and with various degrees of explicitness: on social networks, on television, in political speeches, and in the way we look at the people that surround us.

During the main event, held in Madeira, Sabrina Vorbau from the Insafe Coordination Team gave a keynote speech on the main European trends regarding human rights online. Sabrina also emphasised the importance of adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to making the internet a better and safer place for children and young people. She also highlighted that everybody has a role to play, hence online rights and responsibilities need to be treated in the same way as their offline counterparts.

Against this background, Sabrina introduced a number of initiatives and activities that the Digital Citizenship Team at European Schoolnet is facilitating, targeting children and young people, educators, teachers, policy makers and industry representatives, namely the following:

  • The activities of the Insafe-INHOPE network consist in collaborating with experts in the field of online safety for children and young people – such as social workers, psychologist, law enforcement agencies (LEA), decision makers, industry and academia – raising awareness, providing helpline services and fighting against illegal content online.
  • The Digital Citizenship Team also works with young people as part of the BIK Youth Panel, in the framework of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) project, in which they are given an opportunity to discuss the issues they deem important with policy makers.
  • As part of the SELMA project, a European-wide hackathon was organised, inviting young people to become content creators to hack online hate and empower each other to be an upstander instead of a bystander.
  • Finally, the eSafety Label+ project, which consists in developing educational resources for teachers created by teachers, awards active and passionate teachers to become ambassadors in their own communities and empower their peers to take more action when it comes to online safety education.

Matia Losego, another key speaker, shared his experience as an advocate for the importance of educating, in informal settings, to digital human rights. According to him, four main ideas that can easily resonate with any of us must be shared:

  • Online hate speech hurts different people in different ways. Hate speech kills, as the suicide of Amanda Todd in 2012 and the homicide of Alcino Monteiro in 2015 in Portugal demonstrated. It is important to be aware of the extreme consequences of online hate speech and not to underestimate it. Furthermore, behind every hate speech post, piece of news, comment, graffiti and expression, there are people: our friends, our partners, our relatives and our colleagues. Every one of us, in different ways, has already produced, disseminated, accepted hate speech and, most probably, all of us already suffered from the consequences of hate speech.
  • Online hate speech is complex. Hate speech takes multiple forms – like the Faceless Men in Game of Thrones – and it is no signalled as such on the web. In the digital space, hate speech becomes difficult to identify, understand, evaluate and fight. If we try to classify a handful of examples of hate speech on a scale from "bad" to "worst", we quickly understand that the exercise is highly subjective. We can map different criteria, according to the content, the intent, the target, the context and the impact, but we cannot say that a tweet against migrants posted by a politician, eventually representing a public institution, is better than a single cyberbullying message received by a high school student. They are both dangerous and behind both of them, there is an oppressive narrative. Mostly, they both need to be tackled.
  • Online hate speech is a human rights issue. Hate speech was not born with the advent of the internet, but it surely gained a new dimension with it, in terms of form and dissemination. The digital transformation brought about several societal challenges. The ones linked to online hate speech, such as internet governance, online privacy and data protection, need to be analysed from a human rights perspective. Additionally, online hate speech plays a key role in the creation and development of discrimination processes, fostering representations, stereotypes and prejudices and giving space to new forms of violence.
  • Online hate speech calls for a responsible and effective response. This may take the form of activism actions, the set-up of reporting mechanisms by internet providers and national authorities, or we can also give a voice to the victims. Education, and especially human rights education, is an extremely powerful tool to counter online hate speech. This effort must be carried out both online and offline. The No Hate Speech Movement, coordinated by the Council of Europe at the international level and by committees of public institutions and civil society organisations at the national level, is contributing invaluably to these emancipatory processes by involving thousands of young people, youth workers, educators and decision makers into its activities.

Throughout the month of February 2019, Microsoft promoted a series of initiatives to raise awareness about the safe use of the internet. In one of these activities, there was a very interesting shift in the approach used, which consisted in letting young people express themselves. Microsoft provided a training session about internet safety to a group of students on Monday, 28 January 2019 and during the month of February, they then visited companies to receive internet safety sessions.

On Wednesday, 27 February 2019, a wrap-up session took place at the EDP headquarters in Lisbon, an event also promoted by Microsoft. In the first session, two 12th grade students shared with participants ways of promoting a positive relation with the internet. Topics like cyberbullying, fake news, disinformation, online gaming and parental software control were discussed. In the second panel, parents, accompanied by their children, shared their perspectives about their use of the internet and their preferred social platforms.

Therefore, to learn about human rights online means to acknowledge that "education is the only long-term solution: to prevent hate speech, to denounce hate speech and to promote solidarity with the victims"*. In this learning process, we must all consider ourselves leading actors. Media and digital literacy education must gain importance, to enable us to critically deconstruct hate speech, contributing to a fairer exercise of human rights online.

Learn more about the events of the day, including the seminar "Online for human rights", the student event at the EDP auditorium. You can also read a summary of the celebrations by the Altice foundation and learn more about the No Hate Speech Movement.

For further information, please check the Portuguese Safer Internet Day profile page.

Find out more information about the work of the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.


* BOOKMARKS, A Manual for Combating hate speech online through human rights education, revised edition, 2016.

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