United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday launched a global appeal to address and counter "the virus of hate" -- hate speech related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID-19 does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction. We need every ounce of solidarity to tackle it together. Yet the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering," said Guterres in a video message.
Anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred. Migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus -- and then denied access to medical treatment, he said.
With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable. And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs, he said.
"We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate. That's why I'm appealing today for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally," noted the UN chief.
Guterres called on political leaders to show solidarity with all members of their societies and build and reinforce social cohesion. He called on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy at a time when billions of young people are online -- and when extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.
He called on the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and, in line with international human rights law, remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content. He also called on civil society to strengthen outreach to vulnerable people, as well as religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect.
"And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness," said Guterres. "Let's defeat hate speech -- and COVID-19 -- together."