DHR’s Joanne Ahern and Sarah Harte visited the offices of our partners Political Intelligence in Brussels last week. Today, Joanne blogs about the hate speech conference that they attended in the European Parliament, organised by the S&D group.
Hate speech: Simply a legal issue? A societal issue? Or both? That was the subject of the United Against Hate and Fear conference at the European Parliament, which DHR account director Sarah Harte and myself attended during our recent trip to Brussels to visit our partners Political Intelligence.
The event brought together a host of interested parties from various backgrounds, including Facebook EMEA policy manager, Siobhán Cummiskey.
The conference was held at the Altiero Spinelli Building. Security is very evident at the Parliament, and if you’re not a badge holder, you have to have a visitor sticker and be escorted through the building, after passing through airport-type scanners.
On this occasion, the escort was welcome as the ASP is a virtual labyrinth of a building. We went up escalators, along corridors, and passed through a lobby housing open TV studios before arriving at the tiered conference room. It had microphones and headphones on the desks and booths, housing translators along the sides (think Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter). Each language had its own booth, with multiple interpreters in each. The headphones, of course, were so we could get an English translation when non-English speakers took the floor.
The scene was set by the first panel, speaking on the topic of Hate Speech in Europe. It was chaired by Italian MEP Cecile Kyenge, The Congolese-born doctor has first-hand experience of racism, being subjected to racist insults and having bananas thrown at her when she became Italy’s first black cabinet minister – for integration – in 2013.
Founder of British group Hope not Hate, Nick Lowles told the audience that positivity is the antidote to hate. He said that people need to reclaim the language of free speech and equality. He added that it’s important to define what is free speech and what is hate speech, and to explain those definitions.
Meanwhile, lawyer Andrea Ronchi said social rejection is important in countering hate speech – if it’s not socially acceptable people will be less inclined to do it.
Taking the mic in the second panel, on Hate Speech vs Free Speech, Siobhán Commiskey outlined how Facebook deals with hate speech. The former human rights lawyer said that, contrary to popular belief, her company does not follow US First Amendment standards for its policy on hate speech and in fact draws from many sources. In short, its users cannot write posts which attack individuals based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability / disease. It relies on its users to report objectionable content, which is reviewed by native speaker community managers in more than 30 languages.
She said that counter speech is an effective way of responding to hate speech, with photos and videos, as well as satire, humour and celebrity speakers getting attention. However, she said that NGOs don’t engage in it enough. She added that Facebook is running training courses to empower NGOs to do this.
This most interesting conference was organised by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, of which Dublin MEP Nessa Childers is a member.