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Nordic Laws Against Online Threats And Hate Speech Analysed

Hate speech and sexism on the internet is a growing problem in the Nordic region. What legal protection can the victims expect? NIKK has launched a new project to review the applicable legislations in the Nordic countries.

Moa Bladini. Photo: private
 Moa Bladini. Photo: private

How can the online violence and harassment be stopped? This is a hot topic in all Nordic countries. The widespread posting of threats and sexist remarks in online forums and comment fields is not least a democracy problem, as it risks silencing voices in the public space. But it is notably difficult to bust the perpetrators. One problem is that the legislation in the area is outdated. Another is that the research on how the online violence can be combated is limited. To tackle a few of these problems the Nordic Council of Ministers has commissioned NIKK start a project that will review the applicable legislations in the Nordic countries. The purpose of the project is to contribute to knowledge-based work against online hate speech, threats and other violations that are linked to gender.

‘My focus is on the national legislations, which I analyse from an intersectional gender perspective. I want to explore what situations are covered by the present laws and which ones are not,’ says Moa Bladini, senior lecturer in criminal law and analyst in the project.

What does the current situation look like when it comes to gender-related online violence in the Nordic region?
‘Threats and hate speech online is a relatively new phenomenon. It is a consequence of the rapid technological progress. The wheels in the legislative mills turn rather slowly and don’t respond quickly to sudden changes, like the ones we have seen in the area of online violence. Young women are particularly vulnerable, and some of the violations they experience fall outside the current legislative frameworks. I’m for example thinking of distribution of nude pictures without consent, which is a violation that remains unregulated in Swedish law.’

What have you found so far?
‘The Nordic legislations show many similarities, but there are also some differences. Dissemination of material that may violate a person’s integrity, such as nude photos spread without the person’s consent, is a criminal act in Norway and Finland. In Sweden, the two criminal offences defamation and insult clash with the country’s law of freedom of expression, which takes precedence. As a result, the police cannot always pursue a case. Instead, the victim’s only option is to file a lawsuit for damages. Finland looks at it differently and gives priority to the protection of a person’s honour over the freedom of expression. However, following criticism from the European Court of Human Rights, they have been forced to make some adjustments.’

How can NIKK’s project benefit other Nordic actors?
‘This is important knowledge that can help bring attention to legislative weaknesses in the Nordic countries, but also to best practice. If we for example see that Norway has found a good solution to something, the other countries can be made aware of it and learn from their example. It can also imply coordination gains.’

Updated 13 April 2020