Hate speech online is situated at the intersection of multiple tensions: it is the expression of conflicts between different groups within and across societies; it is a vivid example of how new technologies bring with them both opportunities and challenges; and it implies complex balancing between fundamental rights and principles, including freedom of expression and the defense of human dignity. Most alarmingly, hate speech has been linked to discrimination, ethnic and religious violence, and terrorist recruitment across the world. At PCMLP we have sought to promote new ways to understand this new and growing phenomenon, both at the conceptual and at the practical level. In collaboration with UNESCO, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and as part of our Moot Court competition, we have challenged some of the recurrent assumptions around hate speech online, calling for greater understanding of both offenders and targets. The UNESCO study, Countering Online Hate Speech, provides a global overview of the dynamics characterizing the dissemination of hateful messages online and some of the measures that have been adopted to counteract and mitigate it, highlighting good practices that have emerged at the local and global levels. This research offers a comprehensive analysis of the international, regional and national normative frameworks developed to address hate speech online, and their repercussions for freedom of expression. It also places particular emphasis on social and non-regulatory mechanisms that can help to counter the production, dissemination and impact of hateful messages online.

The Mechachal (“Tolerance” in Amharic) project offers a more focused and empirically grounded understanding not online of hate speech, but of a variety of debates online that emerge around elections. It is one of the most comprehensive attempts to map online debates in social media in Africa and aims at offering new methodological and conceptual tools that can be adapted to other scenarios in Africa and beyond to analyse both extremist messages and opportunities for engagement online. Report 1 and Report 2 are now available.