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Combating Hate Speech: Everyone’s Responsibility

Speech bMinister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide, at the Trygve Lie Symposium, New York. "Combating Hate Speech: Everyone's Responsibility".

 

Welcome to the Trygve Lie Symposium. This year putting on the agenda one of the challenges of our time: How to combat hate speech. This is a challenge that confronts us all and where we all have a responsibility. 

Let me start with an example from my own country: For two consecutive summers we have witnessed a heated debate against one minority in Europe, namely the Roma people. There are very few Roma people living in Norway. But in the summertime some few thousands tend to visit. But yet in the midst of our rich and democratic society, people were tempted to express themselves in a way that I would characterize as hate speech attacks and even attacks on a minority.

Most countries in Europe face challenges with Roma people and other minorities. In the rest of the world we know that other minorities are under pressure.

Hate speech is not new. But greater access to Internet and increasing use of social media are making hate speech more visible and easier to spread.

Hate speech varies in intensity and is targeted at different groups like the Rom minorities, immigrants, persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. In Europe, we have seen how a group that includes more than half the population – namely women - are often subjected to this kind of harassment. This is particularly the case for those who take part in the public debate. My impression is that hate speech against women is often overlooked.

Hate speech constitutes a double threat: a threat to human dignity and individual security; and a threat to society as a whole. Hate speech discourages people from taking part in the public debate. It fuels intolerance. And in the most extreme cases incites violence. This became evident in my own country, Norway, on 22 July 2011.

Take this as a background for today’s debate and how we can find common and new ways to combat hate speech.

The limits to freedom of speech
Combating hate speech presents us with a difficult dilemma.

Freedom of expression includes the right to make statements that could offend, shock or disturb. But the freedom of speech does not include the right to harass, threaten or persecute others. Striking this balance between lawful and unlawful expressions is a difficult task. Hence, we must continuously discuss where to draw the line.

I believe that the threshold for limiting freedom of speech must be very high. The right to freedom of expression can and should be restricted only in extreme cases, such as incitement to hatred and violence.

Suppressing, one of our most fundamental freedoms, is not the best way of responding to hate speech. On the contrary: The best way to answer hate speech is more speech. 

How can we jointly combat hate speech?
We need to identify other ways of combating hate speech. What tools do we have at hand? What is our collective responsibility? In short, what can each of us do?

As foreign minister, I can make sure that the issue of hate speech has a prominent place on the international agenda. I can work to broaden the global commitment through my dialogue with international colleagues, and in my speeches and in debates, and in my active engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms. I can promote exchange of information and contribute to policy development. 

As a public figure and a politician, I can speak out against manifestations of intolerance. I can also refrain from making discriminatory statements myself and lead by example.

Other key actors, such as journalists, editors, social media providers, bloggers and civil society organisations, must find their own approaches and responses.

The purpose of this symposium is to provide a forum for discussion and stimulate concrete ideas on how we can come to terms with hate speech.

I am therefore pleased to welcome such a distinguished set of panellists. They include a cross-section of civil society activists, media representatives, experts and government representatives at the highest level, and are imminently qualified to discuss the issue at hand. 

 

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