Europe launches course to combat hate speech online

The Council of Europe has developed a course to combat racism and discrimination online - which is linked to the upcoming 'Charter of Internet user rights'.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The course is touted as training for "young bloggers and online activists", apparently equipping them with the skills and knowledge to act against hate and discriminatory behavior found online. Any "online expression" that appears to contradict human rights violations is a target; the council believing that training young people will encourage "action and intervention" against such acts.

30 young activists hailing from areas including Europe, Egypt and Yemen will participate in the first cycle. Seminars will take place at the European Youth Center in Budapest for a week in May 2012, followed by distance learning courses running until December 2013.

The course summary reads:

The training course will focus on developing participants knowledge, skills and attitudes in human rights and human rights protection and supporting them to recognize and act against racism and discrimination in their online form of expression of hate speech as well as supporting them to further promote the human rights values of the Council of Europe among young people in the online space.

The council says that the students will be forming a "core group" of people that will lead a "media youth" campaign against hate speech online this year, following into 2013 and beyond.

It seems that the council project may also be aimed at gaining input for correcting policy guidelines in cyberspace. This is where the problems with protecting free speech may come into play; just what does "hate speech" actually mean?

The definition the Council of Europe has used is as follows (.pdf):

"The term “hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin."

Cyberbulling and the power that the Internet has to shape and form political action in the physical world -- as the outrage over the satirical YouTube movie The Innocence of Muslims revealed. The council says that central to the project is the idea that "human rights apply there as much in the rest of society", but this is intrinsically a minefield. Different countries have varying ideas about what is a human right, and not only this, but different laws are in place which protect or restrict freedom of speech.

In the council project manifesto, it states that the course will be part of the upcoming "Charter of Internet user rights". Reports have suggested that while this may protect individuals from discimination or hate speech, it may also be a way to prevent governments from controlling the Internet through filtering or blocking -- which makes political activism more difficult.

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