IGF 2017 - Day 2 - Room XXVI - WS109 How Counter Narratives can help Pluralistic Democracy to Flourish Online


The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 17 to 21 December 2017. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 



>> MENNO ETTEMA:  Welcome, everyone.  Thank you for being in this session.  I think I can still say good morning for another five minutes, so I will.  Good morning.  This is the session on using counter and alternative narratives to address hate speech and actually promoting democracy and pluralistic democracy.  It's a short half an hour session, so we would like to introduce a little bit of background to how this came to be and show what it covers and how it's, for example, being implemented in our projects. 

So I'll start with shortly introducing myself and my colleagues here that are co‑facilitating this. 

Myself, I'm Menno Ettema, I work as the European coordinator for the No Hate Speech Movement for the Council of Europe. 

Next to me is Ron, he's an activist and human rights author of the Weekend Manual, which is the discussion today. 

And Ingrid works for the European Wergeland Centre and works in education for citizenship, and she's working on the programme at Utoya Island, which she'll cover in a few minutes. 

I just would like to explain the background to the menu, so you understand the framework and how it came to be.  The council for Europe launched the No Hate Speech Movement, which is a youth campaign to combat hate speech and promote and mobilise young people for human rights online, and this was launched in 2013, and it's still continuing.  The campaign works through national campaign committees in 44 countries who are working through human rights education and various other means to address hate speech, and more importantly, to promote human rights in the online and offline space.  I think this is the key entry point to recall, that it's about promoting human rights. 

When we're talking about hate speech, the campaign has been very much looking into various avenues of action.  It's very clear that some hate speech that are exciting to discrimination and violence need action, so we've been working on exploring the youth perspective on legal actions to take to hate, but, of course, the far amount of hate speech is probably not best addressed through legal action, but more through actions through awareness rising of why is this a problem, hate speech, and to campaign against it. 

So therefore, the campaign is focused a lot on human rights education, to bring young people together, to understand why is this an issue, why is this a threat for democracy, for human rights, and actually why is this a threat for freedom of expression, because hate speech also limits the freedom of expression of others. 

So if we want to have freedom of expression for all, it should be free of hate speech.  A pluralistic platform for discussion. 

So human rights education has been a key point.  We launched the bookmarks, which is a tool to work with young people on analyzing hate speech and it's opened up a lot of discussions on human rights in general.  In addition, we do a lot of awareness raising actions around International Day, so European Day, raising action on sexist hate speech, or LGBT hate speech, et cetera, targeting refugees or migrants, et cetera. 

Along the way, we've realized that young people are very sensitive to hate speech.  They realize more and more why this is an issue and they want to respond.  Another question is what response should that be?  We've seen too many examples of people saying, you're racist, you're discriminating, and it's actually polarising the debate.  It's actually not a constructive contribution.  It doesn't even acknowledge the person expressing hate speech and where that might come from. 

So, from that understanding the new manual We Can was developed, a step by step guide to promote and analyze the narratives behind it and formulate a response that promotes human rights understanding, critical thinking and other key values that link to human rights education. 

I think I will pass the floor to Ron to quickly explain what the manual is and what it covers because he's one of the co‑authors, so I think he's best to do so. 

>> RON SALEJ:  Thanks.  It was given me this task to briefly summarise the manual, so I will do that quickly and we can have more discussion around it through three main points. 

I think that the first point is going to be very short, and I want to speak a little bit for whom this manual was intended for.  So the audience of the manual, a little bit about the content and how it's being used so far.  The manual can be found online in the website.  There is a copy here that we can distribute just for a look. 

So the manual primarily was intended for the audience of the No Hate Speech Movement.  That is for young activist, for human rights activists, for the campaigners, and it was meant as another tool to help activists and the young people to respond to the hate speech and to the oppressive narratives. 

But this is not limited to them.  This is also for other organisations, other youth workers, youth centers who want to work either at the local level, at the national level, the regional level, transnational level, to combat hate speech and also to develop narratives around the oppressive narratives (?) in life.  That's very shortly about the audience and the uses of the manual.  It has an educational approach, but it's not very much educational into pure educational work. 

However, the manual itself, it contains around seven chapters, and I'm not going to explain them all to you, but if you have a look at it, you can notice that it's divided into two main parts of it.  The first part is more theoretical, and it provides background information of No Hate Speech Movement, the work of the little bit of the campaign committees.  It provides an overview of the hate speech, who are targets of the hate speech, the dynamics of the hate speech, the environments, social media approaches towards the hate speech. 

And then a good chunk of this is dedicated to explanations and the finishes of our narratives.  Mainly the categories of the narratives that we use.  And oppressive narratives, counter narratives, and alternative narratives. 

Last but not least, it gives a special emphasis and importance to being careful on not reproducing the hate speech, because this is a trap that even the human rights activists and other people might fall on, but rather using human rights based approach to combatting hate speech. 

And the second part of the manual is practical, and it's ‑‑ when I say practical, it's very practical.  And it has a guide, we call it step by step guide, which is designed through a framework of four phases, and it basically helps young people ‑‑ activists to assess the narratives, and then to design counter narratives through launch counter narratives and how that is functioning on the field. 

Every phase has a number of steps, and also a number of tools and working sheets that facilitates the workshop, training, the session that you are running for the young people. 

That's the content.  I want to just briefly mention how it's been used since its launch.  It was launched in March of this year.  So it's pretty fresh.  The organisations have started to use the manual at their local level as they try to develop counternarratives to the hate speech and to the narratives. 

(Audio echoing)

Unfortunately, we have seen more and more are becoming present in society, and that's why it comes at a critical time for young people, and the second gives emphasis to (?) the workshops, training courses with other youth workers, to equip them even more using the tools and competencies on combatting hate speech.  And oppressive narratives. 

>> MENNO ETTEMA:  Thank you very much.  There are two tracks.  One is where we train educators to do so and sit down to analyze hate.  Ingrid is specifically working on that area. 

>> INGRID ASPELUND:  Yes.  Thank you, Menno. 

So now I'm going to talk a little bit about the specific project, training course and using the manual and how to develop counter-alternative narratives to hate speech or the oppressive narratives.  So we had a training course in Utoya, which is a small island in Norway.  We had the training course in October of this year.  Question brought youth leaders from 15 different countries to come together and to work on these issues. 

So a little bit of a background.  There was a terrorist attack (?) he killed 29 people, most of them under 20 or so at a political summer camp at Utoya.  Utoya has been used for young people who are politically engaged since the 1950s.  So it's a long tradition for young people to meet and come together.  There was also a lot of international participants at the island that day. 

So the perpetrator believed that the political views of the Labour Party was just (?) of the youth party.  He had (?) supporters especially online. 

(Audio echoing)

Based on immigration policies based on refugees, but also (?) and LGBT rights.  We have similar attacks also from right wing groups, but also from other types of groups in Europe and (?).  So how do we respond to these attacks?  (?) with divisions and silence them.  We choose another approach, which was not about hate, but the saying was more (?) than any type of other stories that we tell or other narratives that we create. 

So the (?) and that has been important.  And that means actually to rebuild (?) for young people to come together to commemorate (?) and important issues in society today.  Actually, the very Democratic system that the perpetrator also attacked. 

So it's about finding a balance (?) to create new life and engage young people in important issues in society today.  (?) and this supplies Norway as well, so this is why we want young people, youth leaders, youth workers to come together and actually (?) experiences and work on creating counter and alternative narratives themselves. 

So, as I said before, (?) respond by more hate, more polarization, more (?) to (?) approach to narratives, which is very much the essence of the (?). 

>> MENNO ETTEMA:  Thank you, Ingrid.  I think it's a great example of how our situation can actually (?) to strengthen the human rights of (?). 

(Audio echoing)

We'll show you one which explains how (?) ‑‑ ask if you could (?). 

(Video indiscernible due to audio echo)

>> I think there is a big confusion around the concept of freedom of expression and hate speech, because people think that they have the right to say whatever they want, but no, it's not like that.  Freedom of expression has limits.  It's a fundamental right, but it's not an absolute right. 

>> If someone says I can say whatever I want, then it's basically the same as he says I can punch women.  It's just verbal vie lens, and it has to be blown away. 

>> If it's not so violent, we respond by countering it, debunking the stereotypes and providing an alternative narrative.  There's a very nice narrative from Finland.  (?) based on the (?) and they decided not to paint over just the wall, but actually to transform the graffiti.  There were French people (?) and this in a way symbolizes the alternative.  We have our problems, but we are strong as a community, and this is what the wall symbolizes now.  First of all, it's everybody's responsibility to refrain from using hate speech.  We have the right to express ourselves and we should.  At the same time, we need to acknowledge each other's rights.  (?) or any problems that we have in society. 

>> MENNO ETTEMA:  There you go.  So this is episode 2 of 5.  It's going to four steps that you can take which explains the manual we've just been introducing. 

I think I need to highlight here that the manual is publicly available.  We have shipped it here, but sadly it got lost somewhere in the build, so we are still trying to find where the manuals are.  If we find them, they will be at your booth, you can grab one.  If not, everything is available online on the No Hate Speech Movement.org or the youth campaign where you can also find 20 examples of alternative narratives or counter narratives to further illustrate how it can be used. 

Plus, also all the sheets that are used in the manual, they are downloadable so you can use them directly with young people. 

This has been the approach of the campaign to use human rights education and to mobilise young people for human rights online, and there's a few examples, and many examples throughout the campaign that we could discuss, but I think I would like to also open this space to discuss with everybody here the potentials of this manual, the potentials of actually responding to hate through human rights narratives and through human rights counter responses, and what could actually strengthen this type of work, how can we actually strengthen the response to hate speech there where legal action is not appropriate, and that's in many cases, we need to respond otherwise, and we're very curious to hear other ideas on how this could be furthered. 

So I would like to ask if there are any questions and also open up the space for further exploration of this approach. 

Yes, thank you.  Please. 

>> Audience:  Hello, everyone.  My name is (?).  The hate speech concept, I would just like to say that first of all, I feel that hate speech tells us more about the person than the platform that it's being put on, because I feel that we are just ‑‑ the online community is just a reflection of our offline community.  So in an effort to combat hate speech online, we should take the extra mile to actually go and combat it offline first of all. 

And also, this is more like a question.  Sometimes, some people put up bad jokes online.  It's supposed to be a joke, and some people may find it offensive while others, it's just a joke, and why are you taking it so seriously.  So does that come up as hate speech also, and if so, what if everybody says no more jokes online, and doesn't that encroach into content regulation on the Internet and things like that?  Thank you. 

>> MENNO ETTEMA:  Thank you very much.  Is there one more question?  I think I'll take one more question, respond, and then take another two. 

>> Audience:  Hello, I am Esther.  I come from Zambia.  I have a non‑profit organisation called (?).  And this year, just recently we did a survey on safety education with 300 entrants and participants from six countries, and what we found is that six in ten people experience emotional abuse.  This includes hate speech and we wanted to see where does it come from, what is the root cause, so we looked at education, and we found out of the 327 participants, 12% of women had learned about mental health in their basic education.  That is grade one to high school, 12th grade.  And for women ‑‑ for males, it was only 21% of males had learned about mental health in their basic education. 

And specifically, to Zambia, we found that seven in ten people experience emotional abuse.  There's also a lot of online hate and shaming when it comes to trying to come out of the cultural context.  So you'll find that even adults, people in authority figures are, for example, saying that can an NGO please condemn this woman for taking a self‑portrait, kind of a rude self‑portrait, which was not showing anything even, so they are encouraging the young NGOs to condemn other women other women who are not taking the culture context and embracing it. 

We found in Zambia that only 16% of females had learned about emotional health in their primary education, (?) and 11% of males had learned about safety in emotional education. 

So I feel like there's a big gap in the education system.  If we are to teach about hate speech and bring more positive messages, it has to come from a younger level and it has to be (?) in the education system.  Thank you. 

>> MENNO ETTEMA:  Thank you very much. 

>> RON SALEJ:  I'll go first.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  I think you hit the nail ‑‑ how do you call it?  On the head.  When it comes to hate speech, I think there is a lot of gray area, and that's true, and we often get questions, but a joke that is not very funny, for example, sexist joke linked to the second speaker.  I think the issues represent the wider society issue of how do we respond and how do we have knowledge with each other. 

I think part of the approach of the campaign is very much through human rights egg, to make people aware of their behavior and the possible impact it has on others.  Because in day‑to‑day interactions, there's ‑‑

Very strongly to make people aware of the balances and the critical reflection of their online behavior needs to be done.  We need to acknowledge that freedom of expression is (?) and that can be very harsh sometimes.  It is okay to challenge ideas. 

(No audio)

>> That's what they are trying to do. 

>> Probably just to pick up on the first comment and question that you made, I completely agree with you when you say that online sort of communication reflects offline world.  Because of the possibility that Internet gives to come and to share stuff with hidden identity, and therefore some feel more encouraged to share even more harsher hate speech.  I also agree with you that a life without jokes is a boring life, and also precisely that hate speech, combatting hate speech is not policing the Internet, and it's not policing people.  But it's rather taking the cases one by one and seeing them, by whom it was said, in what kind of channel was communicated, and not necessarily always you need to react to hate speech.  Sometimes no reaction is a bigger reaction. 

If a homophobic joke was said to a blog with two viewers, it doesn't mean that you need to react to that and give a credit to the blog, but if a homophobic joke was said by a Prime Minister, then things change completely.  We can also bookmark slightly, especially we can provide specific part on how you analyze and assess hate speech and narratives.  There are different kind of steps that you look at and different approaches that you take to it. 

>> PANELIST:  I might add, how far is the outreach of the hate speech, which gives you an idea of this is something you need to respond to or not, and if you want to respond, you need to reflect ‑‑ do I respond to the people that are the receivers of the hate speech, so a differentiation in target groups and to actually monitor the response ‑‑ the monitored response to your narratives that we set out. 

I know that we have next session coming up, so I just wanted to check if there's any final question?  Yes, I'll take that in the back. 

>> Audience:  Thank you.  I'll try to be short.  I'm representing Alternative Thematics Association in Turkey, and just checked your site full of very useful information.  Congratulations for that and thank you. 

Once again, just realized that there is no representative from Turkey in your campaign partners.  And that is interesting because there is representation from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, all the neighboring countries, and no representation from Turkey.  Just wondering how that happened, just very shortly, if you could summarise that, and I would be willing to help you with that if you're also willing. 

And then (?) especially the mobile interface.  The interface to actually just access with mobile devices.  Needs some sort of refreshment, because I tried to fill in the form, because it was impossible even though I tried different browsers and stuff. 

So that's just technical maybe support issue. 

But the first question is for me significant, so very short insider, please.  Thanks. 

>> PANELIST:  No problem.  So the campaign was launched 2012 when the Turkey ‑‑ it ran through national campaign committees, which brought together governmental representatives and Civil Society organisations.  They launched some initiatives.  When it was prolonged, they decided not to continue.  The government actively said we do not want to be part of this, so that has put us in a situation where we had to take them offline.  But that does not mean that we have not a wide network of Civil Society partners where we work. 

So we have various campaign partners in Turkey who are working at local level with young people, youth organisations and set to work on the issue of hate speech and counter narratives, and I will be interested to see if more cooperation is possible.  There are a couple of other examples. 

We have national committees which have government recognition.  This is a limiting factor sometimes.  And at the same time, we have everywhere across Europe, but also many countries outside Europe, so non‑European organisations could join as a campaign partner to take up the action and use the logo, and we are here to support the network and help.  Our role as Council of Europe is to bring people together, provide resources, not financial but more capacity knowledge and connections, and that's what we're seeing in Turkey, for example. 

Thank you. 

I want to thank everyone for this time.  If the manual arrives, it will be at the Council of Europe booth.  It's downloadable and being translated by more and more languages.  Along the year, you'll see more and more languages coming up.  So Germany is coming, Spanish is coming, it's all coming up.  Thank you very much. 

[ Applause ]