Many young people are here with me at this event, and their world – your world – has a dimension which many of those of my generation are still grappling to understand.
The cyberspace dimension.
Socialising, discussing, transacting, mobilising and working in this dimension are quite simply a normal part of everyday life for young people all over the world.
You are the pioneers and the owners of this new dimension. You are also the guardians.
Cyberspace – for all the possibilities it offers – is at the end of the day nothing more than technology serving the needs of real human beings. The contacts are virtual but the people are real.
On the Internet, everything and anything may be said anonymously. The consequences of one's actions for other people are not immediately apparent, and the click of a button can send a message instantly to hundreds or thousands of others.
But this is not a reason to accept that "anything goes". It is not a reason to allow this medium to be misused to violate the human rights and dignity of others, or to put them at real-life risk in the real world.
Human rights also apply in cyberspace. The victims of hate speech online are real; they are suffering mentally and often physically. Anyone perceived as different can be a target, whether because of their race, religious beliefs, nationality, sexual orientation or even just their physical appearance. This can affect all of us. To give an example: it is now commonplace for women and young girls online to be hounded, abused and threatened with rape. This is dangerous. A climate of hate on the Internet translates into a climate of hate, discrimination and violence in society.
We must not leave cyberspace in the hands of those who want to manipulate and abuse it. Some people may feel there is less of a barrier to making hateful statements in the relative anonymity of cyberspace than in face-to-face conversation. They should not. Preventing and challenging hate speech whenever and wherever it occurs is about our decency as human beings. It is not about being politically correct; it is about living up to our responsibilities.
Hate speech online is not just the work of lonely individuals and lunatics looking for attention. Hate speech online reflects a larger phenomenon: the loss of respect for the other, the loss of civility and citizenship.
The fabric of democratic society has been put under strain by the economic crisis, which threatens to turn into a political crisis and a questioning of the values that unite us. Circumstances and technologies change, but the need to defend and promote human rights is as strong as ever. Financial and economic crises can never be an excuse to compromise on human rights.
The basic principles and values which we apply to the question of balancing freedom of expression and protection from hate speech in "traditional" spheres of communication apply also to the Internet.
Freedom of expression is fundamental for every democratic society. The free exchange of ideas and vibrant public debate are the lifeblood of democracy. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by international standards; in Europe, this protection is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its case law, which remains the main reference point when seeking a good balance.
The awareness of Internet users of the freedom of expression in an online environment is important for deterring hate speech. The compendium "Human rights for Internet users", which the Council of Europe is preparing, is a good example of this.
Human rights and democracy cannot, however, be protected by legal means alone. Cyberspace is particularly difficult to regulate because of its transnational nature. Experience has shown that regulation often creates more difficulties than it solves.
This is why the Council of Europe's youth movement against hate speech online is so important. It represents a move towards self-regulation, self-monitoring and positive peer-pressure by the users themselves.
This "No Hate Speech Movement", proposed by the youth organisations working with the Council of Europe, is being organised by hundreds of young people in all parts of our continent. I would like to acknowledge the active support of the European Youth Forum, the representative voice of youth organisations. Young people and their organisations can be proud of their sense of responsibility and urgency.
As Secretary General of the Council of Europe, I am especially impressed by the commitment and willingness of our member states and of youth organizations to organize this movement at national level. As we speak, the movement is already getting started in 24 member states. I invite the other member states, and other international organisations sharing the same values and the same concerns as the Council of Europe, to join our initiative to promote human rights online and to combat intolerance everywhere.
Like many others, I believe that the cyberspace dimension represents a sea-change in our societies, comparable to the industrial revolutions which shaped today's democratic institutions. We are entering a new era for democracy and citizens' democratic participation, and young people can lead the way. The risks are there, but so are the opportunities.
I am very proud to open this campaign by uploading my own personal message to the platform of the campaign. I invite young people of all ages to join us in this movement and to say "No to hate speech" and "No to indifference".
My message is:
Join young people in the No Hate Speech Movement.
Say "NO to hate speech" and "NO to indifference"