Social media apps Twitter and Facebook [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An initiative to fight hate crime was launched on Monday evening at the Google offices in Brussels.
The project is a collaboration between the European Commission, social media giants Twitter and Facebook and Jewish NGO CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe.
“Who could better represent the diversity of Europe than a Jewish organization born out of... Jewish culture and awareness of embracing differences, while still adhering eventually to one big understanding of mutual respect?” asked Katharina von Schnurbein, coordinator on combating antisemitism for the European Commission. She was speaking on behalf of the group’s first vice president, Frans Timmermans, who had to cancel at the last minute.
“With the unique Jewish European experience with regard to inclusion and being confronted with prejudice and hatred, CEJI is well placed to share this wide knowledge with schools, law enforcement authorities, other NGOs and also with us, the European Commission,” Von Schurbein said.
The event saw the beginning of a project called “Facing all the Facts,” funded by the rights, equality and citizenship program of the EC, and coordinated by CEJI.
Noting a correlation between hateful discourse online and actual hate crime – including harassment, vandalism and violence – the initiative seeks to help law enforcement professionals and civil society organizations better monitor and counter hate speech.
“We started the facing facts initiative back in 2009 to train civil society organizations how to monitor hate crime. Evidence was needed to convince governments to fulfill their obligations,” explained Robin Sclafani, director of CEJI.
“Now we all understand that we must work together, police, prosecutors and NGOs, to tackle hate crime and hate speech targeting nationality, ethnicity, religion, the LGBTQ community, disabled people and all other victims of bias-motivated incidents.”
In a statement issued ahead of the event, Timmermans said: “Hatred corrodes the foundations on which our democratic societies are built. We need to make sure that we can debate each other and live together even when we disagree, instead of treating each other as enemies.”
Law enforcement agencies from the UK, Italy and Hungary attended the launch, along with representatives from the EC, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Open Society Foundations and numerous civil society organizations that are stakeholders and collaborators in the initiative.
“At Google, we take this issue very seriously and are particularly troubled by violence and hatred in the world, especially by recent acts of terrorism and violent extremism here in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere,” Lie Junius, director of EU public policy and government relations at Google, told the audience.
“We want to be part of the solution and to work regularly with NGOs and governments to draw on their expertise so that we can better understand these issues and support innovative solutions.”
She stressed that while the core of Google’s mission is to empower people to create, broadcast and share, that freedom is not absolute. In 2015, the company removed 92 million videos for violating guidelines on YouTube. Removing such content is one of the obligations she said Google has vowed to uphold in its role in the fight against hate speech.
The project is set to run until the end of 2018, and will include e-learning modules for police, prosecutors and policy makers on issues of hate crime and hate speech. The modules will become part of the e-learning platform called Facing Facts Online, which is also launching the first e-learning course on hate crime monitoring for civil society organizations.