The UN denounces the spread of racial hatred on social networks

UN human rights experts have denounced a sharp increase in the use of a racist word on Twitter after the company was recently acquired by Elon Musk and called on social media companies to “take a deeper their responsibilities in the face of manifestations of hatred against people of African descent”.

In a joint statement, these experts noted that during the first days following the acquisition of Twitter, the Network Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University observed a 500% increase in the use of the word hateful and racist starting with the letter “N” on the platform compared to the previous period.

Despite statements from Twitter attributing the abuse to a campaign of trolls reiterating “there is no place for hate” on this network, these experts judged these hateful manifestations to be worrying enough to “deserve a urgent human rights response” from social media companies.

Recalling that other social network giants such as Meta are just as concerned, the same observers deplore the gap between companies’ commitments to combat hate speech and the effective implementation of these policies on sites, such as the demonstrates to them the endorsement of inflammatory, sometimes unblockable ads, spreading election misinformation and conspiracy theories on Facebook.

Lure of profit hampers social media monitoring

However, experts hail as an “important step” the creation by Meta in 2020, in response to numerous complaints, of a supervisory board composed of experts in various fields empowered to make independent decisions and issue recommendations. on the content policies of Facebook and Instagram.

But they point out that the effectiveness of this advice can only be assessed in the long term and will require a constant commitment at the highest level of social networks to examine and modify their mechanisms for combating incitement to racial hatred online.

According to them, there is a risk that “the arbitrariness and the attraction of profit hinder the mechanisms of surveillance and regulation of social networks”.

UN experts also cite the recent open letter written by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter, which stresses that “freedom of expression is not a free pass for harmful disinformation causing damage in the real world”.

“Hate speech not only undermines the rights of people of African descent,” the statement said, but also creates “major fissures in societies, source of various forms of destabilization within countries.”

Loss of trust of marginalized communities

In their view, complacency in incitement to hatred against people of African descent or other marginalized groups is both an encouragement to the perpetrators and a source of chronic race-related traumatic stress.

The UN experts thus evoke the cumulative effects of racism on the mental and physical health of people, on the loss of confidence of these communities towards social networks and the quest for justice, and are particularly concerned about the fate of young people who spend a significant portion of their lives in cyberspace and whose experiences gained on online platforms often shape their personal values, attitudes and actions.

At stake, the future of future generations and social cohesion

“What is at stake is the future of current and future generations, as well as social cohesion between communities. Social media has a major role to play in building less racist, less confrontational, more tolerant, just and equitable societies,” they conclude.

They urge Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet-Google’s Sundar Pichai, Apple’s Tim Cook, and other tech and social media figures to place human rights, racial justice , accountability, transparency, corporate social responsibility and ethics “at the heart of their business model”.

“Corporate responsibility for racial justice and human rights is a fundamental social responsibility,” they say, not without adding that it is also “in the long-term interest of these companies and their shareholders. “.

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