Among the many dreadful effects of coronavirus on society has been the rise of hate speech targeted particularly at foreigners. Virtually every national or ethnic group has been used as a scapegoat; attacks and harassment have been reported against people in the Muslim, Jewish, and Asian communities. Migrants and refugees have been accused of spreading the virus and denied access to medical treatment.
Therefore on May 8th, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a global appeal to address and counter COVID-19-related hate speech. “COVID-19 does not care about who we are, where we live, what we believe or any other distinction. We need every ounce of solidarity to tackle it together,” said Guterres. We all need to show solidarity in order to halt the “tsunami” of hate speech that has been coming at us as another consequence of the virus.
Guterres underlined the need for political leaders, educational institutions, and the civil society to build social cohesion, promote digital literacy, and strengthen outreach to vulnerable people in these times of crisis. However, he drew attention to the fact that it is the media, and particularly social media companies, that need to make a particular effort to remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.
Last year, the Secretary-General launched the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech to enhance these efforts. However, we all “have a duty to protect people, end stigma and prevent violence” during this pandemic. And in order to do this, says Guterres, “I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness.”