Facing hate speech with media literacy

On 18th of January 2023, the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were hosting a webinar on the theme of Freedom of Expression in the Digital Environment.

“While the digital era has presented opportunities for enhancing freedom of expression, new challenges have emerged. The spread of disinformation and hate speech has been deployed and amplified by digital technologies, often intimidating and discrediting media.” In the face of widespread disinformation and hate speech, people find themselves in self-reinforcing bubbles with entirely different sets and interpretations of facts.

On the one hand, a lot of helpful content with accurate information can be found on the internet. On the other hand, there is also dubious content such as conspiracy theories, disinformation or hate speech. While the webinar of UNSSC has focused on actors for vibrant democracies such as journalists and politicians, young people also have trouble finding orientation within these dynamics due to the lack of media and information literacy. Therefore, today it is more important than ever to be able to use digital media competently and independently.

The number of incidents of intolerance, racism, and violence has steadily risen around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has sharpened an already alarming increase of fear- and hate-based disinformation, including hate speech. Although international law prohibits incitement, it does not prohibit hate speech that does not meet these criteria. However, hate speech does not exist in a vacuum, but is informed by prejudice, anger, and fear of “the other”. As these patterns of thinking are learned, strategies to reject hate speech can be taught to unlearn the mentioned misconceptions. Education can be a powerful tool for addressing hate speech at its root and can serve to expose prejudice and stereotypes and help break down biases. Media literacy can strengthen awareness of the harm caused by and consequences of disinformation and can help develop capacities of learners and teachers to recognize and reject hateful discourses and related manipulation techniques. These features make education an indispensable component of any educational effort to detect and counter hate speech, whether it is online or offline. Media literacy helps to spot fake news and activates skills to analyze and evaluate information and create and respond to content in a responsible and reflected way with the goal to strengthen diversity, inclusion, tolerance, and social cohesion.



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