This week, GPAHE participated in the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism’s Counter Terrorism Week, a biennial gathering of Member States and international counter-terrorism partners. GPAHE CEO Wendy Via presented comments during the event. Additionally, the Global Alliance Against Digital Hate and Extremism, which GPAHE co-founded, was used as an example of multilateral efforts to combat extremism and terrorism during a side event hosted by the World Jewish Congress.
Here are Via’s comments:
Secretary General Guterres, Under Secretary General of Counter Terrorism Voronkov, your excellencies and distinguished colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to address this conference. One of the widest gaps in community safety and the protection of democracies is the proliferation of hate and dehumanizing speech online, which fosters the conditions for terrorist violence and even genocide.
As the Secretary General has said, “Hate Speech is an alarm bell. The louder it rings, the greater the threat of genocide. It precedes and promotes violence.” Nowhere does hate and extremism spread more rapidly than in online spaces. Across the world, terrorists are using social media to organize and recruit. They spread violence-inspiring racist conspiracies like the Great Replacement, share terrorism manifestos and manuals, and even organize and plan attacks.
Communities that have been targeted by individuals radicalized online, particularly those inspired by white supremacy, include Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ+ people, Latinos and others across the globe, in Brazil, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, the US and elsewhere. So far, the largely voluntary efforts to remove terrorist content and hate speech by the tech companies have failed. The companies may have policies in place to placate governments and civil society, but enforcement is lacking and driven by economic concerns rather than community safety, the protection of democracies and human rights.
The situation is even more dire in non-English languages and it is an understatement to say that they are moderated poorly, leaving far too many communities around the globe open to abuse and violence. The farther one is from Silicon Valley, the worse the situation becomes. We will not be able to tackle terrorism and extremism globally if we do not clean up the online space.
The UN and its member states can work to fill the gaps in safety and security that lead to terrorist acts by collectively and cooperatively putting constant public and regulatory pressure on the companies.
Let me highlight one particularly important issue. Political leaders, specifically, must not be allowed to engage in hate speech and disinformation online. Too often, for profit and to pander to those in power, tech companies suspend their own rules to allow the political powerful a free pass. Members of this body must call on the tech companies to apply their rules equally, even to political speech, and they must stand up to their peers who engage in hate speech. The voices of the politically powerful carry farther than those of others. They must be used to condemn hate speech, both online and off.