How Costa Rica drafted Latin America’s first ever anti-hate strategy

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“Costa Rican society does not teach us that there are indigenous people in this country,” she said. “It is a form of discrimination, making the existence of indigenous peoples invisible.”

Faustina Torres belongs to the Bribri indigenous community in Costa Rica.

Faustina Torres belongs to the Bribri indigenous community in Costa Rica.

Amid an alarming trend of spiraling hate speech and discrimination online platforms, Costa Rica, with UN support, has been designing Latin America’s first ever strategy to fight back, Poised to unveil the powerful tool by the end of 2023, the landmark strategy aims at laying the foundation for new national policies,

 “We must not let expressions of hate, violence, and discrimination become normalized in public and digital spaces,” Costa Rica’s Communication Minister Jorge Rodríguez explained when announcing the strategy’s unveiling. “Today, we recognize that decisive action is required from the State, but also from all social actors to address this great challenge.”

Targeted people are ‘scared’

Attempts to unravel the social fabric may be virtual, but the threats are real. An artificial intelligence (AI) driven UN study earlier this year detected more than 1.4 million messages and conversations related to hate and discrimination on Costa Rica’s social media platforms, a 255 per cent spike since 2021.

Allegra Baiocchi, the UN Resident Coordinator the country, said her team realized that most hate content targeted women, particularly those in leadership positions, LGBTQ issues, and migrants.

“When we started speaking to women and some of the people who had been targeted, they told us that they felt scared, scared to express their opinions,” she said.

After the UN urged immediate action, Costa Rica stepped up, laying the groundwork for a safe digital space for all, which can act as a replicable blueprint for fighting hate online around the world.

Multi-pronged approach

Aligned with the UN Secretary-General’s priorities to stamp out hate and led by a multidisciplinary expert team from the UN and the Government, the new strategy will provide solutions to stop these scourges from spreading online, from determining responsibilities, creating new monitoring, and identifying areas of action.

“With the launch of this process of creating a national strategy, we are taking a step in the right direction,” Ms. Baiocchi said.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica, Allegra Baiocchi (right), visits a young mother who lives in an underserved neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica.

UN Costa Rica/Danilo Mora

The UN Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica, Allegra Baiocchi (right), visits a young mother who lives in an underserved neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica.

 

Steps already taken include the recent launch of a guide to confront digital violence against women in politics. In the same vein, the Government established an observatory on hate speech with the University of Costa Rica, passed a law protecting women in politics, and forged a partnership with the Lawyers Committee Association, who studied laws on hate speech evolving around the world and produced a handbook for those affected.

“In Costa Rica, if you’ve been a victim of hate speech, you can go to this handbook and see what is already available for you to protect yourself,” said Ms. Baiocchi, highlighting other such ongoing initiatives as teaching debate in schools.

“Fundamentally, the message behind any work on hate speech and discrimination…is about being able to respect each other and coexist,” she said.

That approach is in line with UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ aim of crushing hate speech online and off. In response to trends of growing xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim hatred around the world, the Secretary-General launched the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech in 2019.

“If left unchecked,” he said, “hate speech can even harm peace and development, as it lays the ground for conflicts and tensions, wide scale human rights violations.”

Find out more about how the UN is helping Costa Ricans here.

Subscribe to our podcast series, UNiting Against Hate, here.



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