Presentation Dr. Agnès Callamard, Columbia University

“More speech, Not less: Counter-Speech as a
strategy to respond to incitement to violence
and hatred”
Dr. Agnes Callamard, Columbia University
[email protected]
Ministerial Side Event
Towards inclusive societies:
empowerment and education as a
strategy to prevent genocide
United Nations, New York, 24 September 2014
Kingdom of Belgium and UN Office on Genocide
Terminology and scope
• Hate speech covers a variety and a spectrum of
expression, some of which may be legitimate under
international human rights law
• Focus here is on the most serious Hate Speech, nonprotected by international law:
– That falls under article 20 of the ICCPR (incitement
to violence, discrimination and hostility) and under
the Genocide Convention;
– That is conducted on-line
• A six part test to distinguish harmful from less harmful
hate speech is relied upon:
Incitement Speech: ARTICLE 19 six part
1. The historical context of the expression;
2. The speaker (including his/her influence and position in the
society and community)
3. The intent of the speaker/proponent to incite
discrimination, hostility or violence;
4. The content of the expression (words, references, etc.)
5. Its outreach (including the audience and means of
6. The likelihood that the advocated action will occur,
including its imminence
What does Internet offer
Extremist Individuals or Groups?
The Internet offers easier, faster and inexpensive ways to:
• Connect
• Communicate
• Validate
– “provides a feeling of empowerment that comes from finding
out that feelings are widely shared”(1)
The Internet is an ‘echo chamber’:
• Where “individuals find their ideas supported and
echoed by other like-minded individuals”
• Where they create a collective identity, often across
borders, and a digital territory
A word on “communication”
• Ample evidence that hate and extremist groups
are now more sophisticated in use of
communication technologies but it varies across
groups and countries;
– 50% of 157 “hate” sites surveyed last year in the US included
multimedia materials (3).
– Recent ISIS videos demonstrate a thorough technical
knowledge and understanding of marketing - Lend Me Your
Ears and Grand Theft Auto 5.
• Important to distinguish between websites; chat
rooms; facebook pages; twitter; Instagram;
YouTube; SMS; etc.
What does the Internet offer Hate
and Extremism?
Far less evidence that Internet allows to:
• Mobilize/radicalize supporters
• Recruit members
• Train members e.g. in weapons’ use
• Organise action (acts of mass violence),
e.g. through bulk SMS
Physical contacts for recruitment and
radicalization …
• Internet is not a direct means of recruitment or
radicalization but facilitates both
– “chat rooms can be an engine of transformation
because they provide validation”(4)
• Real-world social relationships are pivotal.
– “the Internet can support and facilitate but never
completely replace direct human contact and the ties
of friendship and kinship through which intense
personal loyalties form” (5)
• Crucial role of the family; school/university;
church/mosque; and particularly prisons
On the effectiveness of blocking
Intelligence Experts concur:
• Systematic, large-scale deployment of take-down or
filtering measures is impractical, and even
counterproductive (6).
• Banning website or accounts is not very effective
although it may be disruptive
• The offenders relocate, rename or mutate… and so
does the incitement speech; eg Al-Shabbad Twitter
– “The offence mutated… It was displaced to social media”,
including to Facebook (Kenya) (7)
It is necessary to engaging in the battle
of ideas through counter-speech to…
1. Denounce fundamentalist, extremist or
radical thinking
2. Provide alternative and progressive
3. Bust myths, refute through counter-examples
4. Discredit (in particular rumors)
5. Plant ‘seeds of doubt’ (the reluctant radicals)
6. Highlight the risks linked to violence
Pre-conditions for an effective
engagement in counter-speech on-line
• A legal and policy environment and
practices that supports diversity and
• An active and able to operate civil society;
• Access to Infrastructure, free and open
source software ;
• Some degree of digital literacy (requiring
in turn digital education)
Examples of possible
Users-generated reporting and blocking;
Entire playlists on YouTube dedicated to Islam against Extremism;
New anti-Jihad YouTube animated series called Abdullah X,
US: Think Again Turn Away campaign
– launched in December 2013
– effort to enter the war of ideas and win hearts and minds of jihadists on
social media.
– Includes a twitter campaign, a video.
• EC: RAN @ focuses on areas where the largest gains can be made.
– Focuses on ‘positive’ rather than ‘negative’ initiatives.
– Seeks to develop frontline partnerships around collation
– Creation, and dissemination of counter- and alternative-narratives through
the Internet and social media.
Not to be confused with
Disrupting Speech
• In 2011, the ‘hacktivist’ collective, Anonymous
– Called on Internet users to upload altered copies
of Anders Breivik’s manifesto to prevent his
political ideas from influencing others.
• The UK governmenEffective counter-speech requires
strong community engagement, connection, etc.
• ‘Operation Cupcake’:
– MI6 replaced virtual copies of Al-Qaeda’s flagship
magazine, Inspire, with a popular recipe for
Assessment of possible counterspeech (based on 15 examples)
On the positive side
• Increasingly the extremist space is occupied and
• By a range of actors:
– Governments
– Inter-Governmental organizations
– Social media
– Civil society
– Individuals
Assessment: on the positive side
• Even in countries where speaking out is
difficult, the counter-speech movement is
gaining ground:
– Myanmar: The Panzagar Movement
– Pakistan: Messages from the mosque
– Kenya: range of initiatives on and off line
Assessment: on the positive side
• Solidarity with the victims of Hate Speech
• Active responses to the average hate speech
(not necessarily incitement): e.g. Response to
Hate Speech following the election of the first
Muslim Miss America.
• Hate Crimes posted on-line are denunced and
reported by viewers
Analysing counter speech and
their impact
Ideally counter speech intervention should include a reflection on
the following elements:
• Who should speak - The Messengers
• The objective/target/motivation (is the counter-speech seeking
to address Extremist information, or connection or validation or
recruitment, etc.)
• The audience targeted (specific individuals, groups, etc.)
• The content and message (text, images, videos, campaigns,
tweets, etc.)
• The means of dissemination (website, chat room, messengers,
facebook, etc.)
Assessment: limits and difficulties
• Some initiatives appear to have ticked many boxes but fail
in their sustainable outreach (9)
• Individuals denunciation can get it terribly wrong (Witch
hunt following the Boston Bombing)
• Too many initiatives or campaigns end up preaching to the
• Videos: many are text heavy, not very exciting or fail to
find the right tone or balance compared to the
sophisticated videos of eg Jihadists
• Crowd sourcing: not necessarily smart and accurate
Assessment: limits and difficulties
• Large number of initiatives
– Not thought out as part of a sophisticated communication
or marketing strategy
• No clear understanding of: the end user, the product to
communicate, the expected outcome, etc.
• Is the strategy to disrupt communication and
connection flows; offer alternative information;
provide alternative validation?
• Or prevent recruitment and radicalization and if so
evidence demands an off-line strategy.
• We are just at the beginning of the Journey…
Community and local kowledge
• Learning from the other (offline) world… The importance
of trust, local knowledge and “community”
• One-on-one digital method is designed to “overcome ingroup peer pressure, which can act as a significant barrier to
meaningful intervention” (10)
• EXIT Sweden:
– Grass-roots organisation - part- funded by the Swedish government
– Former violent extremists on staff
– Supports the rehabilitation of individuals who identify with neo-Nazi
– Recognises the importance of online community- bonding processes and
has begun to explore the potential of online engagement strategies
Engaging difficult topics
• Anger related to perceived injustices
must be addressed
– Connects to current, ‘hot’ news items (12)
• Address topics extremists monopolize,
including “through accurate and nuanced
viewpoints targeting youth particularly
vulnerable to extremist ideology”
On the importance of Off line
• Australia: The National Imams Consultative Forum:
– NICF meets three times a year for a 2-day workshop
during which Imams are exposed to information and skills
relating to the radicalisation process, its indicators,
ideological drivers, and means by which to challenge
these drivers.
• UK: Bold Creative
– Creative design agency that piloted its ‘Digital Disruption’
workshops aimed at inoculating vulnerable youth against
online propaganda.
A role for Governments?
• Enable (through laws and policies) civil society efforts to design and
deliver alternative narrative campaigns;
• Enable a legal regime that promotes diversity and pluralism of
opinions and of the media, unhindered and equal access to
Internet, etc.
• Refrain from speech that directly or indirectly ostracize,
discriminate, and of course from hate or incitement speech
• Explore and deliver targeted alternative narratives on and off-line,
re-enforced by strong community engagement
• Ensure that messages are reinforced by government policies and
• Support evaluation, research – Counter-speech needs more
exploration and data
And let’s not forget some thorny
difficult questions
•The ethics of users reporting and censorship
•The implications (for democratic principles) of
Intermediaries content regulation/censorship
•What is the relationship between extremist ideology and
violent one? Between Radical Extremist Ideas and Radical
Violent Behaviors
•Is supporting the idea of terrorism a crime?
•How does one handle the official “extremist” ideology
espoused and practiced officially by a number of
countries around the world, some of which do export it
abroad through various other legal means, eg funding of
religious education, religious places of worship, etc.

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