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India calls for multi-stakeholder engagement to tackle hate speech online

United Nations: Voicing concern over the use of social media by terrorists to radicalise youth, India has called for a multi-stakeholder engagement, including lasting commitment from technology companies on higher standards of content regulation, to address challenges of hate speech online. India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu during the informal meeting of the General Assembly on Wednesday on ‘Combating Antisemitism and Other Forms of Racism and Hate said that India watches with concern the groundswell of antisemitism, racism, intolerance and xenophobia in a world interconnected through technology.

 “Social media has given people a platform to spew hate speech and radical beliefs to other disaffected people, amplifying what are otherwise fringe opinions. Some have turned hatred into violence,” Naidu said.

He said that terrorists, openly or under the garb of anonymity, radicalise youth using social media, luring them into their nefarious designs. “Such acts continue with impunity,” he said.

He stressed on the need for a multilateral and multi-stakeholder engagement to address challenges of hate speech online.

“Lasting commitment from technology companies to abide by higher standards of regulations regarding content is one such issue that we need to grapple with,” he said.

Naidu told the General Assembly that the Jewish people have for more than two millennia faced discrimination and hatred based on their identity, asserting that pervasive antisemitism often co-exists with other forms of deep-rooted malaise towards others.

“Antisemitism which relies on the idea that certain physical and intellectual differences exist between groups and these differences are biological, permanent, and irreversible has no place on this planet,” he said.

Underlining India’s close and historical cultural links with Jews, he said antisemitism has rarely been witnessed in India and the only known instance of an attack on a Jewish place of worship in the country was when Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists attacked Mumbai in November 2008, killing 165 people including six people at the Chabad House.

 “Even here, the act of bravery of an Indian nanny saving a two-year-old child after the brutal killing of both his parents by the terrorists, serves as beacon of hope and inspiration,” he said, referring to Sandra Samuel who saved “Baby Moshe”, son of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, as terrorists ransacked the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai.

Such “evocative accounts of solidarity and compassion from our own history are most potent tools to fight age old prejudices,” he said.

Naidu noted that the first Jews came to India 2000 years ago. Since then, Jewish immigrants arrived in India at different points in times in the history, retaining their identity, while assimilating influence from local cultures.

India commended Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ commitment to prevent proliferation of hate speech and intolerance online and offline and to encourage dialogue among stakeholders, saying the report of the SG’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation is beginning of a deliberation to tackle the emerging challenges to social cohesion in digital age.

“While we act on how to apply the existing human rights norms in digital settings, we must simultaneously focus on harnessing the power of communication technologies to foster the values of global citizenship,” he said adding that the digital world increasingly provides space of socialization for younger generations.

Guterres, speaking at the event organized by the President of the General Assembly on the Challenges of Teaching Tolerance and Respect in the Digital Age, said the “multi-headed monster” of intolerance has created a visible and violent “tsunami of hatred” that is gathering speed across the world. 

Further, in today’s digital realm, there are new vectors of venom, algorithms that accelerate the spread of bigotry, and new platforms where far-flung extremists can find each other and spur each other on. 

In a strong message he said, “We need to treat hate speech as we treat every malicious act: by condemning it and refusing to amplify it. That does not mean limiting freedom of speech; it means keeping hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence, which is prohibited under international law.”

In her opening statement General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa said it had been a year of “despicable” attacks based on hatred, noting that “sadly, they come as no surprise.”

“What is frightening now is that it is no longer confined to extremist groups” but has become “part of a broader surge in intolerance, racism and xenophobia mainstreamed,” she said.

Espinosa recalled that the Assembly had met several times already this year to “discuss hate speech, nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies, and attacks against Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews; against people of all faiths and none.”

“We must redouble our efforts to ensure that…the seeds of hate do not find fertile ground,” she said, encouraging education to address intolerance and combat falsehood and disinformation.

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