A major UN report has identified recent trends in the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that it says contribute to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance.
The report, by UN Special Rapporteur E. Tendayi Achiume, highlights the governments’ obligations under human rights laws to counter extreme ideologies online, as well as the responsibilities of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Achiume, who is the fifth Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, said the use of digital technology has helped spread hate group propaganda in recent years. She did, however, note that several companies had successfully used technology to identify cases of racism and hate speech that was first propagated by both neo-Nazi and far-right groups.
The report attempted to better distinguish between white supremacist groups, which are defined by a belief that those of Indo-European descent are superior to other races, and neo-Fascism. The latter’s ideology includes elements of radical, right-wing authoritarianism that is rooted in ultra-nationalism and characterised by dictatorial power, the forcible suppression of the opposition and the independent media, and a conformist regimentation of society and of the economy.
Both are different from Nazi and neo-Nazi ideologies which “reject racial equality and advocate extreme violence, if necessary, to achieve their vision of oppression and discrimination.” Neo-Nazism targets many racial, ethnic, and religious groups including Slavs, Roma, Africans, people of African descent, and Muslims, as well as the LGBT community, those with disabilities, and even women in some cases.
According to one study, since 2012, the presence of white nationalist movements on Twitter has increased by more than 600%. One of the highest trending themes on Twitter among white nationalists was the concept of “white genocide”, defined as the endangerment of the “white race” by the increasing diversity of modern societies.
In one unnamed country, a survey concluded that at least two-thirds of the population relied on social media platforms to receive information and have access to news content.
“Digital platforms have become vehicles for the spread of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, intolerance and violence on racial, ethnic, religious and related grounds,” said Achiume, who added, “The largely unregulated, decentralised, cheap, and anonymising nature of the Internet has allowed hate groups to spread their networks across borders and amplify their hate-filled messages.”
YouTube remains the main video-sharing platform globally, including for extremist and hate groups. Dozens of YouTube channels contain content and user comments that run the gamut of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic diatribes which target groups that are stigmatised by neo-Nazis.
With over 1.5 billion viewers a month and 400 new hours of video uploaded every minute, YouTube has become a key cog in the distribution of propaganda for neo-Nazis and other hate groups. Many of those videos have received more than 100,000 views. In 2013, a six-and-a-half-hour video entitled “Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told”, hosted on YouTube became the most shared video by the white nationalist community.
YouTube has also been a hotbed for neo-Nazi music videos that advocate killing Muslims and Jews. Hate music videos usually celebrate the Holocaust, reference anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and other related hate speech.
A Scandinavian far-right and anti-refugee organization was able, in a short period of time, to create a network of Facebook groups to gather new members and supporters in both Europe and North America. In order to attract young recruits, extremist groups use video games propagating ideologies of racial superiority and racial hatred, said Achiume, who added that the UN Convention requires states to prohibit racist organisations.
“Unfortunately, some member states use preconceived concerns about racist or intolerant speech to illegitimately quash expression,” said Achiume.
The UN’s report also cites examples when certain governments have taken legal actions against the promotion of white power, including criminalising Holocaust denial, banning neo-Nazi messages and symbols, as well as imposing a ban on racist hate speech.
Over the past five years, companies such as GoDaddy, Google, and Airbnb have taken actions to remove white nationalist and neo-Nazi content from their services. Other platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have in the past year also banned individual users who have contributed to hate movements.
“The growing support for neo-Nazism and related ideology, especially through the use of new digital technologies, is of primary concern,” said Achiume, before adding, “The current international and regional human rights framework offers relevant principles that should be implemented effectively in law and in practice by states in order to tackle such forms of racism and intolerance online.”
Criminal and civil penalties alone will not put an end to racial and xenophobic intolerance online, Achiume cautioned. She argues that individual countries need to invest more resources in building and sharing knowledge about measures that go beyond sanctioning violations once they have occurred.
“Technology companies will continue to have a significant role in combating intolerance online and each country should work collaboratively with the private sector to achieve a result,” Achiume said. “Tech companies must invest into the resources that are necessary to ensure that their codes of conduct and actual practices reflect a serious commitment to racial equality and to an understanding of the right to freedom of expression that complies with international human rights law and principles.”