Human Rights Day: Freedom of Expression is not a pass to be an online troll

Today is Human Rights Day a day observed by all around the world to commemorate the 10th December 1948, the date when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Today also marks the end of #16daysactivism around the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. This year Glitch!UK called for UK Government and all main political parties to officially recognise online abuse and harassment as a form of violence against women. During our campaign the question “when does freedom of speech become hate speech?” was asked several times. This philosophical question will be debated until the end of time. But for Glitch!UK the answer simple.
The right to freedom of expression is granted to all under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to all EU Citizens Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. We believe you can express an opinion on topics and issues around the world without it being filled with hate or it be a personal attack.
It is possible have a robust and heated debate without descending to online abuse and harassment. Robust debate is necessary  in order to get to the core of the main points, challenge held beliefs and draw similarities and conclusion. It is important to go through this process in order for society to grow in tolerance and understanding, to evolve and recommit to core beliefs.
Freedom of expression is not a human right to spread any form of hate nor should it ever be.
Freedom of expression is also not a pass to discriminate, silence, abuse and harass women or individuals from diverse groups online. Social media companies must respect and do more to protect the rights of women and individuals from diverse groups to express themselves.
Sadly, this is not happening.
Amnesty International commissioned an Ipsos Mori poll which showed 23% of women across eight countries experienced online abuse or harassment.  Just over a fifth of women in Britain experienced online abuse and it is magnified for women of colour. There is an increasing number of attempts to silence women and individuals from diverse groups online through various forms abuse, ranging from but not limited to revenge porn, doxing, harassment and mob-style trolling. These are activists, politicians, journalists, models, bloggers, mums, senior leaders in companies and the future generation. This results in the withdrawal from expressing an opinion online out of fear of a violation of privacy and or safety and therefore a limitation of diversity online.
This is a new challenge to democracy, digital inclusion, progress towards gender equality, as well as the integrity of the information space that social media companies and governments must address and quickly. Maybe we should have the right to take social media companies to court for failing to address online abuse and harassment online?
When advocating for stricter enforcement of guidelines and terms and conditions on social media platforms we are simply calling for online platforms to be a safe place for all to use, all to express themselves free from hate speech, harassment, bullying and any personal abuse. Earlier this year we published a list of recommendations on how social media companies can begin to do this.
There are some things that are just clearly hateful and do not belong in robust debate. Sending racist abuse, rape threats and sharing a video without someone’s consent are clear red lines. Once we tackle this, then we can turn our attention to the remarks that are not so clear cut.
Some of the main points of our workshops are to increase understanding of online abuse and our rights online so on Human Rights Day familiarise yourself and others about your rights online:
-> Freedom to express an opinion or image of yourself without fear of being silenced, abused and or harassed.
-> Right to report all abuse and harassment directly to social media companies who then must investigate it.
– >Right to report abuse and harassment to the police and for officers to treat it as a crime. If officers don’t you then have the right to complain.
-> In the UK online hate speech is now treated the same as hate speech said in a physical public space.
As with all rights there comes responsibility. When it comes to the right to express yourself the responsibility must be to be respectful, tolerant, and not to spread hate. If you agree, sign up our Glitch!UK Pledge.

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