In recent years, the phenomenon of hate speech has snowballed with the use of social media and has been exacerbated by new and protracted crises in different regions, damaging the fabric of societies worldwide.
To help address this massive challenge, UNESCO is dedicating the International Day of Education on 24 January to the crucial role education and teachers play in countering hate speech.
“Our best defense against hate speech is education, which must be at the heart of any peace efforts,” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO said.
“It is our collective duty to empower learners of all ages to deconstruct hate speech, and lay the foundations for inclusive, democratic and human-rights respecting societies. To succeed, we need to better train and support teachers who are on the front lines in overcoming this phenomenon.”
On January 24, UNESCO will organise a one-day online training for several thousand teachers from around the world on the deconstruction of hate speech, which will give them the tools to better spot, tackle and prevent hate speech incidents.
This training initiative is part of UNESCO’s action to help its Member States and education professionals address hate speech through education.
Research from the office of the eSafety commissioner shows that out of 3,737 Australians aged 18 to 65, 14% (about one in seven) said they were a target of online hate speech in the 12 months leading up to August 2019.
These respondents said they had received messages online – usually through social media sites like Facebook and Instagram— that offended them because of their personal identity or beliefs, specifically when it concerns religion, political views, race and gender. The report also found that younger adults were also more likely to have been recipients of hate speech online.
The same day as UNESCO’s one-day online training event, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, UNESCO will bring together Ministers, education leaders, and educators from around the globe to discuss the central role of education in achieving sustainable global peace. In November 2023, UNESCO’s 194 Member States adopted a new recommendation which establishes a global framework in this area.
Recent explosion of hate speech
Hateful messages and conspiracy theories that target and scapegoat specific communities have become increasingly amplified on social media and other online platforms. A recent UNESCO/IPSOS survey conducted in 16 countries revealed that 67% of internet users reported had encountered online hate speech and that 85% were concerned about the impact and influence of disinformation on their fellow citizens, viewing it as a real threat which can destabilise societies.
Following the 7 October 2023 Hamas terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, the Anti-Defamation League found a 337% increase of antisemitic incidents in the USA, 320% increase in Germany, 961% increase in Brazil in comparison to the previous year; and an increase of 818% compared to the past 3 years in the Netherlands. The UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) also found a 43-fold increase in the volume of anti-Muslim discourses on YouTube comparing the four days before and after the attack.
New standard-setting instrument on education for lasting peace
Education offers multiple opportunities to address the root causes of hate speech and sensitize learners of all ages to its forms and consequences online and offline. This includes equipping learners with the skills to recognise and respond to hate and injustice, preparing them to respect the value of diversity and human rights, and teaching them to recognise the difference between hate speech and freedom of expression.
UNESCO’s General Conference recently revised its Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development with this goal. It is the only global standard-setting instrument that lays out how education can bring about lasting peace and foster human development. This instrument will shape education systems and policies in the next decades, from laws and policies to curricula development, teaching practices, learning environments and assessments.
In 2023 UNESCO published the guide “Addressing hate speech through education” to help decision-makers strengthen their public policies in this area. The Organisation is also stepping up its efforts to promote anti-racist guidelines and address racism in textbooks as well as a global initiative to combat antisemitism in and through education.