Hate speech - an overview and recommendations for combating it


A persons thoughts affect only him/her and not other people unless he/she expresses them or acts them out. Then these thoughts set events in motion which are likely to have effect. Therefore it is always important to take words seriously and listen, because it may become necessary to react when words do not express positive thoughts or views, but harmful, demeaning and hateful opinions towards a specific individual or a group of individuals. If not counteracted, hate speech will gradually be normalised and accepted. We catch new words and shortly they become part of the day to day discourse. Words are also the first tool we use to change attitudes, norms, dos and donts in our society.

Equality for all persons is the cornerstone of human rights.  Hate speech and  propaganda are present in all societies to a various degree and intensity. Hate speech affects and undermines the right of the targeted person to equality and freedom from discrimination.  Left unanswered, hate speech can lead to disaster. It promotes prejudice and hate, which in time can undermine the roots of society, create a divide between societal groups and eventually lead to deep divides in the social cohesion. Nazi Germany is a striking example as well as former Yugoslavia, where media, ruled by opposing groups, spewed hatred against national minority groups which escalated the conflict and finally lead to mass murder. The genocide in Rwanda is also a striking example of the effect and consequences of hate speech. In later years, the number of  hate sites (fora) has drastically increased and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter have further added to this evolution. Most people do not realise that a few words on Facebook or Twitter can sow a seed or an idea in the mind of someone who already has negative views or dangerous thoughts against specific groups or individuals. In this connection, Anders Behring Breivik is a name that comes to mind.

The aforementioned and other similar events have led to international realisation of how powerful hate speech can be and the international consensus is on hate speech and hate propaganda to be prohibited by law.

The financial crisis, economical instability, slow economic progress and rising  unemployment rates all over the world have led to social unrest and an increase in racism and xenophobia as well as discrimination against various groups in policy making and execution.  Along with this negative development there is also a rise in hate speech and propaganda in the political debate. Political parties with a policy of racism and xenophobia have had substantial rise in following and they increasingly use hate speech promoting discrimination and violation of rights of various groups in society.  It is therefore extremely important that the administration as well as the general population counter this development, by legislation, awaraness raising and education urging people to embrace diversity.

There is a difference between hate speech on one hand and hate propaganda on the other. Hate propaganda is systematic and often follows a specific ideology such as hate propaganda against Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Hate speech is expressed by various different individuals who do not necessarily have any connection to one another and is therefore not systematic. Even so, hate speech can have a devastating effect since so many different individuals in so many different places instigate the same kind of hate and prejudice against individuals or groups with common characteristics. Sometimes there is not a clear distinction between the two, for example hate speech occurs when a religious group or a political movement systematically attack a specific group or groups in society, through radio or television stations for example. Hate speech is also often apparent in comments on social media.

This publication is meant to be an overview of hate speech and hate propaganda, Icelandic legislation thereon and the way phenomena appears in Iceland as well as on international legislation and actions combating it, such as awareness raising and education on diversity in society.  Finally, thoughts on the interaction between hate speech and freedom of expression and the prohibiting of the former will be adressed and recommendations made for changes in national legislation and a comprehensive government policy to counter hate speech.


Read the full article here.

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