The United Nations says that hate speech is on the rise worldwide with the potential to incite violence, undermine social cohesion and tolerance, and cause psychological, emotional and physical harm to those affected.

Hate speech not only affects the specific individuals and groups targeted, but societies at large, the UN said in commemoration of the first ‘International Day for Countering Hate Speech’ on Saturday.

This first international day is a call to action. “Let us recommit to doing everything in our power to prevent and end hate speech by promoting respect for diversity and inclusivity,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

Mr Guterres said: “Words can be weaponised and cause physical harm. The internet and social media have turbocharged hate speech, enabling it to spread like wildfire across borders. The spread of hate speech against minorities during the Covid-19 pandemic provides further evidence that many societies are highly vulnerable to the stigma, discrimination and conspiracies it promotes.”

According to the UN, the devastating effect of hatred is sadly nothing new, however, its scale and impact are amplified today by new technologies of communication, so much that hate speech, has become one of the most frequent methods for spreading divisive rhetoric and ideologies on a global scale. If left unchecked, hate speech can even harm peace and development, as it lays the ground for conflicts and tensions, wide scale human rights violations.

This is not an isolated phenomenon or the loud voices of a few people on the fringe of society. Hate is moving into the mainstream — in liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike, and with each broken norm, the pillars of common humanity are weakened, the UN says.

In July 2021, the UN General Assembly highlighted global concerns over “the exponential spread and proliferation of hate speech” around the world and adopted a resolution on “promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech”.

The resolution recognises the need to counter discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech and calls on all relevant actors, including states, to increase their efforts to address this phenomenon, in line with international human rights law.

THE DAY: International Day for Countering Hate Speech falls on June 18. The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution to counter hate speech and set up this milestone in the fight against hate speech. According to the UN, hate speech is any kind of speech or writing that attacks or discriminates against a person or a group based on religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender, or any other identity factor. Speech should not be a weapon for creating more mayhem in this volatile world; thus, the International Day for Countering Hate Speech will help to stop hate-mongering.

Hate speech involves speech, actions, and gestures that are intentionally hateful. Thus, it should be regulated and criminalized. For years the U.S. has been attempting to prohibit hate speech and crimes, such as violent acts like the cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan. Efforts have expanded over the years to include alleged ‘speech and thought’ crimes. Currently, any public statement against illegal immigration or same-sex marriage is termed ‘hate speech.’ The Southern Poverty Law Center includes pro-family groups in the list of hate groups for their opposition to same-sex marriage.

By law, the two types of threatening speech that could be restricted included ‘gesture or speech used to incite violence’ and ‘obscene or libelous words.’ In 1919, Oliver Wendell Holmes stretched this further when he argued in Schenck vs. the United States that falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theater was prohibited. However, the law retained the argument for preventing physical harm from hate speech.

In 1992, Congress asked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (N.T.I.A.) to examine the role of telecommunications in instigating hate speech and inciting violence. By 1993, N.T.I.A. had reported that a climate of hate induces violence. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, ‘the hate speech concept’ was brought into political discourse after President Bill Clinton alleged that it happened because of loud and angry hateful voices. The definition of hate speech changed in 2009 after the National Hispanic Media Coalition outlined that it had the following four parts: false facts, flawed argumentation, divisive language, and dehumanizing metaphors. Hate speech was not limited to inciting violence but also included an atmosphere that could encourage violence.

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