Mayors of cities and municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina commit to combat hate speech and protect freedom of expression on social media

UNESCO and the European Union have hosted the ‘Social Media for Peace’ signing of the Covenant of Mayors of Cities and municipalities of Bosnia and Herzegovina on combating hate speech and divisive narratives on social media while enhancing the promotion of peace through digital technologies.

The signing of the covenant manifests the commitment of the current set of local leaders to attain one common purpose of ensuring a peaceful society and promoting the use of social media for the public good.

The EU puts great effort to fighting hate speech and disinformation, while upholding freedom of expression. It is important to be on the right side and take responsibility, refrain from spreading hate speech and disinformation and speak up against those who do. The mayors, who signed the covenant today, have an important public role and their words and actions set the norm for society.

Elisabet Tomasinec, Head of Political Department at the the European Union in BiH

The amount of harmful online content in Bosnia and Herzegovina is worrying and calls for a comprehensive response. The recently launched study on Regulating Harmful Online Content in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Between Freedom of Expression and Harm to Democracy, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNESCO, aimed to strengthen societal resilience to potentially harmful content spreading online, while safeguarding freedom of expression and promoting peace through digital technologies.

We are looking at comprehensive solutions to protect freedom of expression and come up with practices that are in line with international human rights law, and which do not prevent or censor online speech or discourage free-flow of various sources of information and opinions.

Sinisa Sesum, Head of UNESCO Antenna in Sarajevo

UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming also attended the signing of the agreement.

It can be said that hate speech is like thousands of cuts on paper, because if you persistently insult and it multiplies on the platforms of social networks, then it becomes so big that it is difficult to control.

Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications

UN Resident Coordinator in BiH Ingrid MacDonald assessed that the fact that mayors and representatives currently in office, decided to sign this agreement in such times, means a lot for BiH and such leadership is something that citizens are looking for. She noted that hate speech is the foundation of the division of society and is extremely important for the future of BiH, emphasizing that UNESCO wants to apply these practices in other countries.

UNESCO Representative Andrea Cairola stressed that the project “Social Media for Peace” is aimed at strengthening the resilience of societies against hate speech and disinformation that spreads on the Internet while promoting narratives about peacebuilding on social networks.

The project will last for 36 months and is funded by the EU Instrument contributing to stability and peace to the height of €3 M, and involve tree pilot countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia and Kenya.

This project is aligned with UNESCO’s overall strategy to combat disinformation by fostering the information as a public good and strengthening the transparency of the internet ecosystem. The Social Media for Peace project will also contribute to the achievement of SDG 16, to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and to the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez to combat the online disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance.