08.12.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO triggered debates on social media and youth radicalization in the digital age

"Protecting human rights online and offline and defending civil society and independent journalists are the solutions to solve radicalization in the long run, instead of censorship as a band-aid over the real illness," was the message delivered by Ms Rebecca MacKinnon at the workshop “Social Media and Youth Radicalization” convened by UNESCO at the 11th Internet Governance Forum, Guadalajara, Mexico, on 6 December 2016.

The workshop, attended by above 80 participants, was moderated by Indrajit Banerjee, UNESCO Director for Knowledge Societies. He shared the outcome of UNESCO's Conference “Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living Together”, held in Quebec City, Canada, from 30 October to 1 November 2016.

The Director said the “Call of Quebec” outcome document urged stakeholders to question radicalization narratives online, and to respond through counter-narratives and education that emphasizes critical thinking, tolerance and respect for human rights.

Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, pointed out the complexity of the issue of media and radicalization and presented initial findings from UNESCO's ongoing research on social media and radicalization.

The research has taken an evidence-based approach through an extensive review of diverse studies across multiple languages and regions.

It finds there is still little theorization of those complex issues of extremism, terrorism and radicalization. There is also no scientific evidence of clear causal connections between what happens on social media and the radicalization process, and the role of Internet is more of a facilitator rather than a driver of the radicalization process.

The research calls for a global dialogue based on a multi-stakeholder approach and a holistic solution which goes beyond protective responses like blocking and filtering of content, and focus on empowering young people both online and offline.

In the next six months, the research will be finalized and published.

Sofia Rasgado, from the Council of Europe, shared the good practice of a Portuguese campaign to decrease hate speech, cyber bullying and cyber hate, based on human rights education, youth participation and media literacy. Google’s William Hudson argued that content take-down and censorship are insufficient to combat radicalization, and he presented Google's ongoing counter-speech efforts to build a platform for true solidarity and understanding.

Barbora Bukovska, from Article 19, expressed her concern that the lack of definition of the concept of radicalization could lead to violations of human rights. She welcomed UNESCO’s promotion of positive policy measures, including various counter-speech methods, arguing that these are a more effective tool to fight the underlying social causes leading to radicalization.

From Ranking Digital Rights, Rebecca MacKinnon alerted that civil society is often under dual attack by governments and extremist groups, and pleaded that the protection of human rights online and offline and the defense of civil society and independent journalists are crucial to solve the problem of radicalization in the long run.

Participants raised a number of questions related to criminalization of hate speech, freedom of religious expression, balancing rights, personalized content, etc.

A common theme was that all stakeholders need to critically assess the problem of youth radicalization and join their efforts to invest in holistic and effective solutions that take consideration of human rights implications and gender issues, and which take counter-measures and youth empowerment actions.

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