The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has listed the dangers which hate speeches and misinformation are causing the world today.
“A dubious webpage or anonymous post can call into question decades, even centuries, of work, thought, study and careful analysis by scientists, historians or other experts.”
According to him, racist, intolerant and extremist views are fast spreading “like wildfire,” even as they are pushing citizens further apart, undermining democratic ideals and, ultimately, endangering lives.
“Too many people are dying from COVID-19 because they were convinced that accepting the vaccine was the wrong thing to do.”
Guterres, who spoke today, October 26 at the Global Education Ministers conference on addressing hate speech, through education, recalled the horrors of the Second World War and the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia, caused largely by hate speeches.
The UN secretary-general, welcomed the conference which he said is about discussing ways in which education can help fight back against disinformation and hate speech.
“When we enrich the soil of knowledge with true expertise, with facts, science and historical accuracy, hatred cannot take root,” he explained.
Guterres believes that critical thought is not simply about “thinking for yourself”, but about “having the tools and skills needed to properly assess theories and facts.
“And to tilt the scales in favour of authorities and experts who have spent a lifetime studying, assessing and thinking about these issues, by publicly and privately expressing support,” he added.
Noting that educators, teachers and administrators are the first line of defence, he asked the Ministers of Education participating in the event to be ambitious.
“We need to emerge from this conference with bold, concrete solutions on how we can, individually and collectively, step up the fight against hate speech.”
He appealed for the inclusion of all groups, such as young people, social media companies, governments and political parties, saying: “hatred is a danger to everyone, and so fighting it must be a job for everyone.”
According to the UN, hate speech is on the rise worldwide, with the potential to incite violence, undermine social cohesion and tolerance.
It can also cause psychological, emotional and physical harm based on xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of intolerance and discrimination.
Speaking at the Conference, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, reminded that “this hatred is not new.”
“What has changed more recently is the influence and magnitude of social media platforms, which have become an echo chamber that amplifies hate speech.
“The legal response is essential, but it is not enough. We must also mobilise education, because it is through education that we develop critical thinking and deconstruct prejudices.”
The director-general also said that UNESCO stands ready to support its Member States, for instance by developing policy recommendations for educational authorities all over the world.
The one-day event gathered Heads of State and Government, and Ministers of Education, to endorse global commitments to address hate speech, both on and offline, through more effective education measures.