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‘The media’s legal responsibilities need to be clarified’

A large part of the public debate takes place on social media, and the environment can be quite aggressive. The media’s legal responsibility when it comes to hate speech, insults and other violations is unclear. A seminar on moderation of online comments and discussions will be held in late May.

The ability to discuss things on social media is often regarded as favourable to a democratic society. But the tone can be harsh and offensive. Thus, a Nordic network against online sexism and hate speech was formed in September 2016 at the initiative of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. The network has received funding from the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

‘The knowledge about this relatively new phenomenon needs to be strengthened. We need to keep updated about the latest research, legal situations and trends in all Nordic countries to get inspired to create change in our own countries,’ said Lumi Zuleta, project manager from the Institute. 

The network also includes the Norwegian Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud and the Icelandic Human Rights Centre.

Each of the three network members is in charge of arranging a seminar, and the seminars are also attended by representatives from Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman and the Finnish Equality ombudsman. On May 19, a seminar focusing on how the Nordic media moderate online comments to articles they publish on social media will be arranged in Oslo.

‘A large part of the public debate has moved to social media. The media of course have a responsibility for the debate, but what exactly does the responsibility consist of? At the seminar, we will discuss the media’s experience of moderating online debates, what the challenges are and the relationship between moderation and freedom of expression,’ says Lumi Zuleta.

What changes are needed in order to improve the handling of online sexism and hate speech?

‘The legislation in the Nordic countries needs to be reviewed and the media’s legal responsibilities need to be clarified. Right now, it is not clear what their responsibility is in relation to online comments. But the hate speech must be addressed at several levels in society. For example, it is important that children and young people learn social media etiquette in school.’

Why is it important to work against online hate speech?

‘The public debate is a cornerstone of democracy in the Nordic countries. But half of Denmark’s population choose not to participate in the online debate because of the environment. The fact that such a large number of people don’t want to take advantage of their freedom of speech is a democracy problem and a serious concern.’

What are all the hateful comments about and what groups are the most vulnerable?

‘The comments are about political views, race, religion and gender. Women are more frequently than men attacked with gender-related comments. It is also more common that private photos of women are spread online without consent than private photos of men.’

What can the Nordic countries learn from each other when it comes to the online climate?

‘Norway and Sweden have national strategies to combat online hate crimes. It is important that the issue has been addressed at the political level, it improves the potential for change. Norway also has a nuanced discussion about hate speech, in which both the freedom of expression and the individual’s responsibility for remarks made are addressed. In Denmark, we recently conducted a study of online hate speech,’ says Lumi Zuleta.

Updated 23 January 2020