United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday said that parts of the internet were becoming “hothouses of hate” and there was a “disturbing groundswell of intolerance and hate-based violence” around the world.

“As crime feeds on crime, and as vile views move from the fringes to the mainstream, I am profoundly concerned that we are nearing a pivotal moment in battling hatred and extremism,” Guterres said in a statement. He said “like-minded bigots” were finding each other online and platforms were serving to enable hate to go viral.

Guterres announced two initiatives to counter the problem – one was a plan to mobilise the United Nations system against hate speech and the second to find a way for the UN to ensure the safety of religious sanctuaries. He said the first plan will be led by his Special Representative on Genocide Prevention and the second by his High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations.

Guterres said houses of worship have become targets instead of safe havens. “In recent days alone, a synagogue in the United States and a church in Burkina Faso have come under attack,” Guterres said. “Such incidents have become all-too-familiar: Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalised; Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Christians killed at prayer, their churches often torched.”

The UN chief called on everyone to join the effort against hate. Guterres urged for an increase in measures to remove anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement.

“Political and religious leaders have a special responsibility to promote peaceful coexistence,” he said. “I will count on the strong support of Governments, civil society and other partners in working together to uphold the values that bind us as a single human family.”