Harnessing potential of social media: action to counter online disinformation and hate speech
01 July 2021
UNESCO and the European Union launched a project entitled ‘Social Media 4 Peace’. This project aims to strengthen the resilience of civil society to potential harmful content spread online, in particular hate speech which incites violence, while enhancing the promotion of peace through digital technologies, notably social media.
At the project’s opening event, UNESCO facilitated a session bringing together representatives from authorities at the BiH and local levels, journalist associations, academia as well as civil society organizations active in the field of peace and reconciliation. The discussion highlighted the powerful role that social media and ICTs play in shaping socio-political realities, including their misuse as a tool to polarize society by manipulating and amplifying disinformation or by increasing hate speech and intolerance which could even fuel conflict.
EU Special Representative and Head of the EU Delegation, Ambassador Johann Sattler underlined in his intervention that “The European Union is committed to supporting programmes that encourage the use of digital technologies to promote peaceful and resilient societies. Disinformation and hate speech are not new – they are as old as mankind. But the dominance of social media has increased the speed and reach of disinformation and hate speech, and their potential to do damage. We need to create spaces for collaboration between social media platforms, civil society, authorities to ensure that potential harmful content online does not fuel tensions and violence in already fragile societies.”
The project will in enhance the understanding of the root causes, scale and impact of harmful content and of the effectiveness of the tools to address it in three pilot countries, Kenya, Indonesia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Building on that, in its second phase, the project will work to develop actions to limit harmful content in line with international standards protecting the freedom of expression. Moreover, in cooperation with media, fact checkers and civil society representatives, the project will enhance the promotion and support of peace building narratives and initiatives through digital technologies and social media.
“With this project, we would like to address and explore the potential of social media and new technologies for peace and human rights, in particular freedom of expression. But also a freedom of expression as an extraordinary tool to promote respect for cultural diversity of the country, and not to use is as an excuse for attacking other of different cultural, ethnic, religious or even political belonging.” Sinisa Sesum, Head of UNESCO Antenna in Sarajevo
This new project is aligned with UNESCO’s overall strategy to combat disinformation by fostering the information as a public good and strengthening the transparency of the internet ecosystem. The Social Media 4 Peace project will also contribute to the achievement of SDG 16, to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and to the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez to combat xenophobia, racism and intolerance online.
The project will last for 36 months and is financed with €3 million investment from the EU’s Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace.