Frontpage News 2012 Countering hate speech online

Civil society development supported in Hungary
Photographer: Christian Vander Eecken

Countering hate speech online

The Grants support a Europe-wide project by the Council of Europe that will see young people tackling online hate speech.

How to combat online hate speech while also safeguarding freedom of expression is the topic of a conference this week in Budapest.

The Internet offers new and innovative ways to participate. It is a source of information, tool for communication and a place where people can meet to discuss, exchange information and have their say.  

At the same time online tools are rapidly becoming havens for hate speech. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (Recommendation 97(20) on “hate speech”) defines hate speech as expressions which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance. This includes intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.

The shield of anonymity makes it all the more easy to promote racist and discriminatory hatred.  Perpetrators do not risk eye-contact or damage to their reputation. To fake a name and bash out harmful or offensive content is quick, easy and can reach a wide audience instantly.

The shield of anonymity makes it all the more easy to promote racist and discriminatory hatred.  Perpetrators do not risk eye-contact or damage to their reputation. To fake a name and bash out harmful or offensive content is quick, easy and can reach a wide audience instantly.

A Council of Europe online survey  showed that:

• 4 out of 5 respondents have encountered hate speech online

• 2 out of 5 have (personally) felt attacked or threatened

• 1 in 20 have themselves posted hate speech)

Difficult to monitor

Accurate statistics on hate speech online is however difficult to obtain. A Council of Europe mapping study on projects against hate speech online (15 April, 2012) says one explanation is that “hate speech is rarely confined to easily identifiable ‘hate sites’. Furthermore, even where the sites are logged by monitoring organisations and then removed as a result of a complaint, they will frequently be set up a new using a different service provider (often in a different country). This, together with the particular features of Web 2.0 technology, which allows users to post comments, set up individual blogs, upload music, images or video content with extreme ease, makes comprehensive tracking both time consuming and complicated, as well as being a task requiring constant vigilance”.

Different legal responses

Legal responses to hate speech differ from country to country as well as what constitutes illegal content. How to strike the balance between ensuring freedom of expression and the control of harmful and offensive speech online is a challenge, and a uniform approach is not in place on how to tackle the issue.

More visibility

Hate speech is not a new phenomenon per se – the novelty is the use of online media to spread hatred messages and the connection to the offline sphere. 

To fight this trend it is essential to:

  • Support measures to increase multicultural awareness - the attention to, knowledge about and respect for diversity of cultures and traditions
  • Encourage victims and witnesses to report crimes and incidents. A new report (launched on 27 November) by the European Fundamental Rights Agency calls for actions to make hate crime more visible and acknowledging the rights of victims. Often victims are unable or unwilling to seek redress against perpetrators, with many crimes remaining unreported and unprosecuted and, therefore, invisible.

 Conference and bloggers event in Budapest

The EEA and Norway Grants are joining up with the Council of Europe for the conference “Tackling hate speech: Living together online” in Budapest on 27-28 November 2012.

Preceding the conference is a workshop (22-24 November) aiming to train young bloggers and online human rights activists about hate speech online and prepare them to play an active role in addressing it at national and European level.