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

We can tackle this without restricting freedom of speech


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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas