Politically Engaged Young People Are Scared

What does young people’s vulnerability to online hate speech look like in the Nordic countries and what is being done about it? These questions were on the agenda of today’s seminar in Reykjavik.

‘Politically engaged young people are scared silent through online threats and sexist comments. This leads to a major democratic problem,’ says Kai Alajoki, president of the Nordic Youth Council.

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Eygló Harðardóttir, Icelandic gender equality minister

The seminar on young people’s vulnerability to online hate speech in the Nordic countries was arranged in connection with the Nordic Youth Council’s session, which was held in Iceland this year and attracted participants from all over the Nordic region. The event was opened by Icelandic gender equality minister Eygló Harðardóttir, herself a frequent target of hate speech via emails and social media:

‘I think all politicians have experienced it. People don’t seem to understand how much pain it causes. They write things they would never say face-to-face.’

She believes it is important that politicians model proper behaviour by not responding to hatred with hatred.

‘The worst thing you can do when dealing with internet trolls is to give them a platform,’ says Harðardóttir.

Caroline Engvall, journalist and author from Sweden, argued that the justice system should work actively to contact young victims of cyber bullying, since they are unlikely to report their experiences to the police by themselves.

Norwegian researcher Helga Eggebø pointed out that a new definition of hate crime should include gender and gender identity. Sexist hate speech targets primarily young women and LGBT youth.

‘Politicians have a special responsibility’

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Kai Alajoki, president of the Nordic Youth Council

On Tuesday, parliamentarians and government representatives from all Nordic countries will gather in Reykjavik for the Nordic Council’s session. Kai Alajoki believes that all politicians have a responsibility to protect young people from their online vulnerability.

‘They have a special responsibility since they are largely directing the public debate. They can make sure that they themselves don’t trigger hate speech by expressing preconceived views and unfounded opinions. They should talk respectfully about all people,’ says Alajoki.

He also feels it is not reasonable that the fight against sexist hate speech has to be led by those who are targeted the most.

‘We men should get more involved and speak up against all the threats and hatred,’ says Alajoki.

FOOTNOTE: The Nordic Youth Council is a forum for Nordic political youth organisations. The seminar on young people’s vulnerability to online hate speech in the Nordic countries was arranged in connection with the Nordic Committee for Children and Young People (NORDBUK), the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Gender Equality (EK-JÄM) and the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Culture (ÄK-K).


Logotype Nordic Council of Ministers Logotype Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research Logotype University of Gothenburg