Hate crime awareness week: European states must work together to stop cyberbullying

We can tackle this without restricting freedom of speech

Share

We’ve seen it in more suicides laid at the door of online bullying on website Ask.fm. And we’ve seen it with the threats of  violence against British journalists and politicians via twitter. It’s also been clear elsewhere in Europe as well:  the young gay boy in Italy who killed himself after bullying online and at school, the Facebook page in France that was accused of inciting hatred against Roma, or the case in Austria where a 61-year-old was found guilty of inciting hatred of Muslims and Jews on her private Facebook page.

This is national hate crime awareness week. But since cyberhate is not just a British problem, it makes sense for Europe to work together to address it.

There are a number of measures, relatively simple to implement throughout the EU, that would bring lasting changes to the current climate of impunity that reigns on the internet and social media platforms. Most needed is political will, and the willingness to learn from the experiences of our European partners in combating cyberhate. What is tried and tested in one country probably doesn't need testing another 27 times.

Of course, any response has to take account of the right to freedom of speech. However, there is no reason for these solutions to stifle free expression. What we need are down-to-earth measures that focus on more than international criminal gangs.

One of these is education. Some offensive comments made online are not intended to be so – they are just ill-considered. So policymakers need to develop a list of benchmarks for children and young adults, informing them at school and on the web what tone is acceptable, and how you can make a negative comment without becoming abusive.

Some EU countries have specialised police units that monitor and investigate cyberhate – but not all of them. And even where they exist, such divisions are often woefully underequipped for dealing with what is still a relatively new problem. Governments have to ensure they have well-staffed, well-financed police officers trained to combat this phenomenon.

We also see time and time again that victims of hate crime do not report to the police or any other authority – because they don't think it will change anything, or sometimes because they don't trust the people they would be reporting to. There is an EU-wide helpline for victims of crime that has only been activated in five member states. Isn't it time to extend this to the other countries?

Last but not least, public figures of any kind, whether they're politicians or political commentators, need to be more explicit in their condemnation of cyberhate.

At the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights we collect hard data on cyberhate and online harassment from the perspective of those targeted, and can see clearly how deep the problem goes.

"I have the feeling that since going on Facebook, I have experienced more anti-Semitic comments in a few years than I had done my whole life," said one respondent to our recent survey of Jewish communities in the EU.

But the sentiments it expresses aren't limited to any one group.

In one of our other recent studies, a large-scale survey of 93,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout the EU, up to a fifth suffered their last incidence of harassment... online. As many as 15 percent said the most serious incidence of harassment they had met with was on the internet. And our forthcoming report on violence against women will show that in the EU, up to 21 percent of young women have received unwanted sexually explicit e-mails or text messages.

It is also important to remember that incidents of online harassment or bullying do not just affect those directly targeted. They inflict terrible damage on levels of social solidarity and trust – the fundamental sense of living in a safe society with the same equal rights and protection as anyone else. This is the essence of being a citizen. And this, too, is why we need to take action on cyberhate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin