UN experts condemn the spread of racial hatred on social media

In a joint statement, these experts* noted that in the days following the acquisition of Twitter, the Network Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University observed a 500 percent increase in the use of the words “hateful” and “racist” beginning with the letter “N” on platforms compared to the previous period. .

Despite claims by Twitter attributing the abuse to a campaign of trolls reiterating that “there is no place for hate on this network,” these experts found these hate speech troubling enough to “deserve an urgent human rights response” from social media.

Recalling that other social media giants such as Meta are no less concerned, those same observers deplore the gap between companies’ commitment to combating hate speech and the effective implementation of that policy on sites, for example by showing them support for inflammatory, sometimes unblockable ads that spread election misinformation and conspiracy theories on Facebook.

Hate speech on Twitter grows after its takeover by Elon Musk

Arbitrariness and the lure of profit prevent surveillance of social networks

However, experts call the creation of Meta in 2020 a “major step” in response to numerous complaints from a review board made up of experts in various fields, authorized to make independent decisions and make recommendations on the content policy of Facebook and Instagram. .

But they note that the effectiveness of this advice can only be assessed in the long term and will require ongoing commitment at the highest levels of social media to study and change their mechanisms for combating online racial incitement.

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

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

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

Online hate is a threat to democracy and social cohesion.

Online hate is a threat to democracy and social cohesion.

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 perpetrators and a source of chronic, race-related traumatic stress.

Thus, UN experts point to the cumulative impact of racism on people’s mental and physical health, the loss of trust of these communities in social networks and the pursuit of justice, and are especially concerned about the fate of young people who spend a significant part of their lives in cyberspace, and whose experience, received on online platforms often shapes their personal values, attitudes and actions.

The future of future generations and social cohesion are at stake

“The future of present and future generations, as well as social cohesion between communities, is at stake. Social media has an important role to play in building a less racist, less confrontational, more tolerant, just and equal society,” they conclude.

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

“The 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 interests of these companies and their shareholders.”


Catherine Namakula (Chair), Barbara Reynolds (Vice Chair), Miriam Ekiudoko and Sushil Raj, Expert Working Group on People of African Descent; Pichamon Yofantong (Chair), Damilola Olavuyi (Vice Chair), Fernanda Hopenheim, Elzbieta Karska and Robert McCorquodale, Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises; Ravindran Daniel (Chairman-Rapporteur), Elena Aparak, Sorcha MacLeod, Chris Kwaja, Carlos Salazar Couto, Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries; Ashwini KP, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance; Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Muluca-Ann Mythy-Drummond, independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Professor Withit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Isha Difan, independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia; Aliune Tin, independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences; Morris Tidball-Bintz, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions; Paula Gaviria Betancourt, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.


Special rapporteurs and independent experts are part of the so-called special procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the collective name for independent mechanisms.

investigative and monitoring bodies dealing with situations in specific countries or thematic issues in all regions of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not employees of the UN and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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