» UNESCO addresses youth radicalization and online hate speech at Nice conference
30.01.2017 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO addresses youth radicalization and online hate speech at Nice conference

Rachel Pollack Ichou, UNESCO, addressing the conference.

UNESCO recommended media and information literacy as among the most effective responses to online hate speech and youth radicalization at an international conference on youth and cyberhate held last week at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.

The conference, which took place on 23 and 24 January 2017, featured presentations from researchers and civil society organizations from across Europe and North America.

UNESCO representative Rachel Pollack Ichou, Associate Programme Specialist in the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, delivered two presentations: one on UNESCO’s ongoing research on social media and youth radicalization and the other on the recent UNESCO study Countering Online Hate Speech.

The study on radicalization and social media, which UNESCO plans to publish this spring, falls within the Organization’s work to prevent violent extremism and to empower youth to build peace.

This has included an international conference held at UNESCO Headquarters in June 2015 on “Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Extremism” and a conference on “Internet and the Radicalization of Youth” held in October and November 2016 in Quebec, Canada.

In order to investigate the alleged role of social media in the process of radicalization leading to violent extremism, a team of researchers commissioned by UNESCO studied the existing literature through a review of more than 4,000 articles published in the last 15 years in English, French and Arabic.

“The existing literature shows no clear causal link between online propaganda and youth radicalization,” stated Ms Pollack Ichou in her presentation. “In reality, the Internet seems to constitute a favorable environment more than a driving force in the radicalization process.”

The study also found a gap in research on the role of women as victims or perpetrators of violent extremism and in research on Africa and the Arab region, which are, however, among the areas most affected by radicalization.

Preliminary recommendations stemming from the study included a call for greater media and information literacy and for a holistic response to youth radicalization based on knowledge and a respect for human rights.

The second UNESCO presentation highlighted UNESCO’s study Countering Online Hate Speech, published in 2015 the UNESCO Series on Internet Freedom. It covers international standards regarding legal limits for hate speech, which must always be necessary, proportionate and specified in law.

The study also maps a variety of social responses, including efforts for monitoring and discussion, mobilizing civil society, and putting pressure on Internet intermediaries to improve reporting and response mechanisms. Ms Pollack Ichou again highlighted the essential role of media and information literacy in building young people’s skills to identify and react to hate speech.

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