Nils Muiznieks, Chair of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance wants urgent action to halt a rising tide of cyber-racism.
Log into Facebook. Look for a good game to play, maybe something with a bit of action like World of Warcraft. What’s this one? Blood and Honour. Looks good. I can buy weapons and battle rival groups.
If this sounds like the sort of thing for the average teenager, think again. This particular Facebook page belongs to Blood and Honour, one of the most notorious racist skinhead groups. And they are just one of many organisations that are peddling hate by harnessing the power of the Internet.
This was one of the trends exposed by ECRI (the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance), the Council of Europe’s independent anti-racism monitoring body. Our annual report shows a rise in racist and xenophobic views, especially amongst young people.
Some of it can be put down to the economic crisis, with scapegoating common against targets such as Roma, Jews, Blacks and Muslims, and immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. But it is in the cyberworld that the battle for hearts and minds is taking place, and were right wing racists are seeking to recruit, radicalise, and organise.
ECRI’s work shows that racist movements and political parties have sophisticated media strategies and use social networking sites to great effect. Beside the Facebook examples, we have found regular YouTube postings inciting hate and glorifying violence. The Internet is becoming the primary area for racists to campaign, and the anti racist movement needs to get to grips with this new world.
Why has the industry not noticed that there platforms are being abused by extremists? Quite simply, our conceptual equipment and legislation are unprepared for this new age. While anti-racist NGOs in certain countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, have developed an effective professional dialogue with service providers, this is not the case in most European countries.
Indeed, regional and international human rights organisations have not yet learned how to engage the big players – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, My Space, Google and others – in a serious dialogue on combating racism while maintaining freedom of expression on the Internet.
The Council of Europe has often called on governments to enforce criminal law against hate speech in cyberspace. However, many countries take such measures only as a last resort, out of concern that they may cramp freedom of expression. The truth is, though, that the Internet industry can take many steps without crossing that line, such as employing clear terms of service to make it easier to take action against hate sites, promoting industry codes of conduct, and developing online complaints mechanisms.
History shows that it is all too easy for extremists to ride on the fears and uncertainties of economic bad times to recruit to their cause. The Internet makes it even easier for them to reach people – especially those who are young and vulnerable. For the sake of my own children, and all the young people out there, it is time to bring the anti racist fight to the cyberworld.