Remarks for the Launch of Project to Fight Hate Speech

2020 Mission Driven Alumni Outreach
“Youth United for Peace: Addressing the Drivers to Hate Speech and Radicalization.”
Virtual Launching Ceremony, October 28, 2020
Remarks by Leanne Cannon, Public Affairs Officer

Good afternoon everyone here with us on Zoom and all our public audience on Facebook.  We are delighted to host this event for launching the project entitled “Youth United for Peace: Addressing the Drivers to Hate Speech and Radicalization.” I especially want to thank my counterpart from the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education for joining us today.  Greetings, Mr. Ngeh Rekia, Director of Community Life in the Ministry.

The team that is running this project is an inspiring group of people who are working on behalf of the solidarity and peace in Cameroon.  The Embassy is honored to support them financially in their efforts.  While this project has been in planning for months, the launch event today is very timely.  Last weekend, the world was shocked by the barbaric killing of school children in Kumba, in the South West.  I would like to reiterate the Embassy’s condemnation of this act and our heartfelt condolences to the families and all those affected by this tragic incident.  The perpetrators should be held accountable and brought to justice.

As we all know Cameroon is currently faced with a number of conflicts and sources of tension between groups.  There is a vicious cycle between conflict and hate speech, where they fuel and propagate one another.  Hate speech can include various forms of expression that incite, promote, or justify hatred, discrimination, and violence against a person or group of persons.

Hate speech poses grave dangers for the cohesion of a democratic society, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law.  Social media makes the problem more difficult, as hate speech and fake news often go hand in hand.  Information spreads before it is checked for accuracy, and people learn to express themselves in ways without seeing reactions of other people to learn how they are impacting others.

Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by the negative messages around us.  Or we may think a solution can only come from someone else.  But actually, the community as whole needs to take measures to create an environment where hate speech and fake news are considered unacceptable.

In many countries, including Cameroon, there is a legislation that prohibits and sanctions hate speech.  However, research has found that the most effective approach to tackling hate speech online is raising general awareness and empowering the community to respond.  In America we believe that the best response to hate speech is for the community to reject that speech and overpower it with alternative, positive messages.  Even the American platforms, Facebook and Twitter, operate on this idea.  If anyone sees a post they believe is hate speech, they can click on it and report it to the Facebook administrators who will assess it and remove the post if they agree.  To empower communities to counter hate speech, an important step is promoting digital literacy and critical thinking, as people often resort to stereotypes and hatred out of ignorance and fear.

The project we are launching today is being carried about by alumni of various U.S. Government exchange programs.  We love to support our alumni as they collaborate to impact their communities and address crucial social challenges.  This project, “Youth United for Peace,” includes a series of activities to promote online discourse and interaction that respects pluralism and is void of hate speech.  These are Cameroonian solutions to Cameroonian challenges, and we look forward to seeing the impact they can have.

I would like to thank to steering committee of the project, led by Mallet Besong of the Local Youth Corner, for their hard work, and dedication.  This launching event, while hosted on the Embassy Facebook page, belongs to the project team.  We look forward to seeing the interaction between them and the audience, so do not hesitate to ask questions or make comments.

To all, I wish you a very productive session.
Thank you all for your kind attention.