Fighting discrimination, hate and bias violence offline and online

On 17-18 November I participated in the European Commission’s Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, which this year was on “Media pluralism and democracy”. One may wonder what this has to do with the work of Social Platform – actually, a lot. The meeting raised issues of human rights violations by states and individuals, reminding us about the need to promote equality and fight discrimination, hate and bias violence offline as well as online.

Polish journalists testified that their government has forced several hundred journalists to resign, that the constitutional tribunal is being attacked as well as the ombudsman and civil society organisations. Hungarian journalists shared similar experiences of a government wanting a media that does not ask questions, therefore “eliminating [journalists] from Hungarian media in a coupe-like manner” and blocking their professional emails. Questions were raised about what the European Union can do about the ‘Copenhagen Dilemma’, the fact that countries need to meet certain human rights requirements when requesting membership of the EU, but when they are already a member such scrutiny or sanctions no longer apply. The European Parliament has proposed a mechanism to prevent and tackle human rights violations by Member States (read more) and we call for an EU internal strategy to promote human rights.

Female journalists shared their disturbing personal stories of being subject to racist, sexist and homophobic hate speech and death threats. My former colleagues and I experienced similar threats in my previous job working for the Swedish Federation for LGBT Rights. These testimonies raised issues about tackling hate speech against minorities and marginalised groups, and about journalists self-censoring because of fear of being targeted. It also brought to light the fact that the populist extreme mistrust traditional journalists and use online tools like social media to share dubious ‘fake news’.

Other interesting interventions were about the issue of people not knowing who is behind the media they read, due to a lack of transparency as the companies are registered offshore; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook being a sort of publisher, whether he planned it or not; social media as a place for political expression and community; and ‘citizen journalists’ working alongside professional journalists self-publishing on blogs and vlogs. Many returned to the issue of media literacy and the lack of understanding how media works online. Someone referred to the expression “algorithm segregation” as a way of illustrating that computer algorithms shape our preferences and what news we are exposed to, consequently segregating us online into different spaces away from those thinking differently from us.

Next year we will start working to promote our members’ work on the role of technology in the accessibility and delivery of services. We also aim to build new collaborations and partnerships with other stakeholders working on digital rights.