Safer Internet Day: Unia to collaborate more closely with European Commission
The discourse on the Internet is becoming coarser. In order to make it a safer and fairer environment, a number of bodies such as Unia and the European Commission are joining forces. ‘Surfers are no longer hiding their racist speech or xenophobia. They sometimes seem to be proud of it’, says Unia director Els Keytsman.
‘Starting in March, Unia will spend six weeks reporting to the European Commission on the hate speech that is removed from social media and the speed at which this is done’, explains Keytsman. By working together, Unia and other organisations from the European Union want to give an impetus to Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to take hate speech off-line faster. ‘Those other European organisations also work in areas such as human rights, discrimination and racism on the internet.’
Evaluating the code of conduct
‘In the code of conduct against hate speech on the internet, social media companies promise the rapid removal of reported hate speech. With our help, the European Commission will be able to verify whether these companies are effectively doing this. The code of conduct cannot be a commitment in name only.’
In addition, it is important to Unia that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms not only use their own in-house rules to determine whether or not a message is acceptable. ‘Those in-house guidelines are a good place to start, but Belgian and European laws are at least as important.’
‘In the meantime, the trend is hard to miss: cyberspace has become a place where insults are hurled back and forth freely. That much is clear from the reports being received by Unia. Finding the balance between criminal statements and freedom of speech is extremely important in our analyses’, explains Keytsman.
What is punishable by law?
‘In order to make that complex balance easier to understand, we are opening a page on our website that explains what kind of speech is a criminal offence and what is not. Not everything is a criminal offense. It is perfectly possible for shocking opinions or insults to be offensive without constituting incitement to hate, violence or discrimination,’ adds Keytsman.
Unia takes a stand for getting along together, even in times of corona crisis
The corona crisis that is gripping our country has fuelled mutual distrust among citizens. “We notice that there is a strong tendency to look for culprits or scapegoats”, says Els Keytsman, director of Unia. “This is a trend that we must counteract. Nobody benefits from it. We would do much better to support the countless forms of solidarity created by the pandemic. The corona crisis is certainly not over yet. We have to learn to live with this virus without destroying the solidarity in our society.”
Unia is here for you - coronavirus or not
Pandemic or not, we are here to combat discrimination. Unia is here to listen and to help. Subject, of course, to the appropriate precautions. How does this affect you?
Number of reports of discrimination rises by over 13%
In 2019, Unia saw a continued upward trend in the number of reports and cases concerning discrimination. ‘The number of reports was 13.2% higher than in 2018, while the caseload increased by 6.9%. On social media, we are seeing harsher language, about people with disabilities, Muslims and refugees, for example’, says Unia director Els Keytsman. ‘There is a normalisation of hate speech on social media, as well as on the street.’
Unia worried about anti-Semitism in Belgium
Unia will today again press in anti-Semitism hearings in the Belgian Senate for the reintroduction of an anti-Semitism watchdog. The organisation will further ask Minister Kris Peeters, now responsible for Equal Opportunities, to take the first steps towards an inter-federal action plan against discrimination and racism.