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Day 2  |  21 September


Confronting Hate Speech and Disinformation: The role of advertising

13:30-14:45 ICT


Over recent years, and particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, xenophobia, racism, religious extremism, anti-migrant narratives, disinformation and other content inciting discrimination and hatred have flourished on traditional and social media platforms. At the same time, the last decade has seen a rapid evolution of advertising technology (‘ad tech’), the industry that targets advertising or promoted content to internet users; in 2021 the worldwide digital ad spend was over $491 billion. A significant proportion of this spending has – often inadvertently - fueled inflammatory content intended to spark anger and fear of the “other” and made it more challenging for human rights-based messages to be heard. Ads promoted on extremist and disinformation websites, for instance, are estimated to generate more than $235 million in revenue every year, including $25 million in 2020 in relation to COVID-19 disinformation.

There are real world consequences to such discourse, which lands with disproportionate impact on the human rights of groups and individuals in situations of vulnerability and hinders rights-based efforts on critical issues such as addressing climate change or improving the governance of migration. In the Asia Pacific region, we have witnessed how such rhetoric has resulted in orchestrated campaigns of violence against minority religious communities or contributed to public policies which deny undocumented migrants access to essential and life-saving healthcare even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is increasing awareness at the national, regional and global levels that advertising is a business ethics issue and that advertisers, brands and others all have a vital role to play in tackling the “economics of hate”. Recent industry initiatives to tackle bias in advertising have suggested that mitigating bias that is written into algorithms that results in discrimination, unfair targeting and exclusion is possible by using AI tools and resources in marketing processes. The UN Human Rights Office has called on stakeholders to ensure that comprehensive human rights due diligence is conducted when AI systems are acquired, developed, deployed and operated, emphasizing the risk of discrimination linked to AI-based decisions. More broadly, the UN Secretary-General’s strategy and action plan on hate speech and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration recognize the role of media and business actors in confronting discrimination and hatred and promoting evidence-based advertising as well as values-based public discourse.

A more conscious, rights-based approach by private sector and media actors along with partners in civil society, UN agencies and with governments is therefore key to harnessing the levers of change and effectively tackling the funding and spread of hate and disinformation, as well as to ensuring diversity and inclusion and amplifying values-based messaging that can counter damaging narratives. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has joined forces with the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) to promote a conversation with advertisers, companies, civil society, governments and other stakeholders around rights-based and ethical advertising practices. CAN’s seven manifestos address a range of relevant human rights issues such as ensuring that hate speech and mis/disinformation are addressed in company internal policies, creative guidelines and agency briefs..


The key objectives of this session are to:

  • offer an opportunity for advertisers and civil society stakeholders in Asia and the Pacific to understand and apply human rights due diligence to the advertising industry;

  • deliberate on the possibility of building a “big tent” to push back against hatred and disinformation while upholding freedom of expression and other human rights;

  • explore how human rights standards provide both a framework for States considering regulatory options as well as guidance for companies in determining how to ensure that advertising is ethical and rights-based; and

  • unpack how businesses, particularly advertisers and media, can support human rights-based narratives on migration, minorities and related societal issues.



Guiding Questions

Panelists will reflect on the following questions:

  • What are some emerging good practices as well as lessons learnt on the links between human rights and ethical advertising in the context of intolerance, hatred and disinformation in Asia and the Pacific?

  • What are some tools that business actors in the region can use when seeking to ensure that their advertising is ethical and human rights-based?

  • How can business build partnerships with media and civil society including community-based actors to address this issue?

Day1 programme
Image by Tânia Mousinho
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