Online hate speech

2017 | The question of how online hate speech can be stopped is more urgent than ever in the Nordic countries. The rampant online posting of aggressive and sexist remarks poses a serious democracy problem as it may cause actors in the public space to remain silent. But it is difficult to hold the perpetrators accountable, partly because the legislation in the field has not been updated.

The study of legal regulation of online hate speech in the Nordic countries was carried out by Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK) at the request of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The report, written in Swedish and titled “Hat och hot på nätet – en kartläggning av den rättsliga regleringen i Norden från ett jämställdhets-perspektiv”, shows that online hate speech targets women and men to similar extents. However, there are important differences in the types of violations women and men experience. Men are more likely to fall victim to attacks involving threats of violence and references to their profession and competence, whereas women are more likely to experience sexist and sexually charged offences that are of more personal than occupational nature.

The study shows that the hate crime legislation is similar across the Nordic region. Hate speech targeting certain defined groups is illegal in all Nordic countries. However, gender falls outside the realm of legal protection in all Nordic countries, although the Finnish legislation theoretically allows for its inclusion. There is troubling uncertainty in the Nordic countries regarding how the hate crimes legislation should be applied and where to draw the line between hate speech and freedom of expression, and consequently the legal provisions are not used nearly as often as theoretically possible. Consequently, the legal protection that the groups covered by the legislation can count on in real life is very limited, and for victims of gender-based hate speech, it is non-existent. This finding should be considered in relation to the research showing that online hate speech targeting women is largely gender based.

Moa Bladini, lauthor of the report and senior lecturer in criminal law at the University of Gothenburg.

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