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New report sheds light on online hate speech legislation

A new report assessing the legal regulation of online hate speech in the Nordic countries from a gender equality perspective will be on 21 June. 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. Moa Bladini, author of the report, therefore calls for a revision of the hate crime legislation.

‘The current uncertainty in the Nordic countries regarding what is illegal and what is not and how different types of violations should be dealt with can be seen not only among the victims but also in the entire law enforcement sector. This is a dilemma with a negative impact on people’s legal security,’ says Moa Bladini, author of the report and senior lecturer in criminal law at the University of Gothenburg.

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 jämställdhetsperspektiv, 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, author of the report.

Thus, according to Moa Bladini, there is good reason to include victims of gender-based offences in the hate crime legislation.
‘In view of the fact that women are particularly affected by gender-based online hate speech and that the Nordic countries see gender equality as important, it is surprising that no Nordic country offers people legal protection against such violations.’

The report will be presented at a conference titled Countering Hate: Nordic Conference on Hate Speech on 21 June in Stavanger, Norway.

Updated 16 January 2020