Modern communication technologies have contributed to broadening access to information, increasing participation in public debates and making a wide range of subjects, not least those politically, socially and culturally relevant, more accessible for all citizens. However, they have also contributed to the growing trend of hate speech, hate crime and online violence, while also providing perpetrators with a false sense of impunity for crimes committed in the cyberspace.
Hate speech and hate crime pose multiple challenges to the democratic foundations of European societies. They can contribute to the radicalisation of public discourse, the poisoning of healthy democratic debate and to the marginalisation of ethnic or other minorities, as well as people with diverse sexual orientation or gender identity. Hate speech and hate crime deepen divisions within societies and lead to the erosion of fundamental human rights and accepted norms of solidarity, freedom and social cohesion.
In light of these challenges, the EU-Council of Europe joint social media campaign ‘Block the Hatred. Share the Love’ is mainly aimed at raising awareness of the negative social impacts of hate speech amongst young audiences in the Western Balkans, while promoting tolerance, diversity and solidarity. Launched in December 2020 within the framework of the EU-Council of Europe joint programme Horizontal Facility II, the campaign is part of the action on the ‘Promotion of diversity and equality in the Western Balkans’. The campaign is currently carried out online, due to circumstances, but it aims at being spread throughout the region with the use of messages targeting local contexts. The campaign will entail debates and activities aimed at engaging with the public and the local media; engagement of interested institutions; and the participation of civil society organisations involved in combating hate speech.
Since its launch, the campaign has already reached more than 80,000 people across the Western Balkans via Facebook and engaged with almost 4,000 users; while on Instagram, it reached more than 120,000 people and a total of more than 3200 interactions.
In the words of the Head of the EU Delegation to the Council of Europe, Ambassador Meglena Kuneva: ‘Not only institutions, but also people, each and every individual, should be ready to respond to hate speech. […] I joined the campaign to say ‘Block the Hatred. Share the Love’ and I’m inviting you to do the same. Join us and keep following the campaign in the years to come’.
The current campaign feeds into a broader and sustained effort from both organisations over recent years to curb hate speech and discrimination, promote tolerance, inclusion and understanding amongst people of different ethnic or national origin, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or skin colour. As a result of the growing anger which societies around the world have expressed against systemic racism, the EU and its Member States issued a joint statement on racism and discrimination in July 2020 in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Last year, the EU also adopted its first-ever LBGTIQ Equality Strategy (2020-2025), the Gender Action Plan III (2021-2025) and the Anti-Racism Action Plan (2020-2025). On its side, the Council of Europe, within its broad human rights remit, is working extensively on anti-discrimination and inclusion. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) brings together independent experts to monitor country developments regarding the fight against racism, discrimination and xenophobia. It regularly issues reports and recommendations for national authorities. At the same time, the Council of Europe has adopted a considerable amount of recommendations, resolutions, guidelines and strategies to combat discrimination and hate speech on grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, or against persons with disabilities, Roma and other national minorities.
The fight against hate speech features prominently in the thematic priority agenda of the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. In the run-up to the digital conference ‘Unboxing Hate Speech’, the German Presidency marked a thematic anti-hate speech week (8-12 February) in an effort to raise awareness to the challenges of hate speech and hate crime and to promote good practices of solidarity and tolerance. The high-level digital conference organised by the German Presidency will take place on Thursday 18 February 2021, 10.00 to 15.45 CET and will be live-streamed in German and English.
The EU is committed to further enhancing ties with the Council of Europe on anti-discrimination and on the fight against hate speech. For this reason, the EU’s Priorities for Cooperation with the Council of Europe 2020-2022 make specific reference to the Union’s commitment to cooperate with the Council of Europe monitoring bodies, such as ECRI, by raising awareness of their actions and promoting the implementation of their recommendations.
The ‘Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkan and Turkey is a joint programme of the European Union and the Council of Europe, implemented by the Council of Europe’
Website of the campaign: https://pjp-eu.coe.int/en/web/horizontal-facility/blockthehatred