Tackling Hate Speech – Example from Slovenia

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Hate speech has permeated all media platforms and the issue of tackling it is complex. We talked about challenges of hate speech in the media with Urska Valentic of ‘Spletno oko’, an organization in Slovenia that runs a hotline to reduce the presence of child sexual abuse images and hate speech online. She also spoke about hate speech in a webinar on trending topics in media literacy organized within the SEENPM members’ “Media for Citizens – Citizens for Media” project in the Western Balkans.

What is the experience in the EU with practical tackling of hate speech in the media? 

The experiences differ, according to the different ways countries deal with the issue, so I believe we are not really close to saying the experience is equal in all of the EU countries. According to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Recommendation no. (97) 20, “the term hate speech shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of origin.” The European Commission’s definition is based on the Council of the European Union’s Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA from 2008, that became operable in 2015. It states that “hate speech, certain forms of conduct as outlined below, are punishable as criminal offences: public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin; the above-mentioned offence when carried out by the public dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material; and publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8) and crimes defined in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group. Instigating, aiding or abetting in the commission of the above offences is also punishable.

This means, basically, that illegal hate speech in European Union is public incitement to violence or hatred; as well as the denial of genocide and similar war crimes. This Framework decision is binding so it must be implemented in member states (into domestic law) and it also forms the basis of the Code of Conduct for monitoring IT companies’ removal rates of online hate speech.

The so called “European body of legislation” consists of The Framework decision of 2008, Victim’s directive of 2012 and Council of Europe Cyber-crime additional protocol of 2004.

So basically all EU member states now have to have a basic level of legislation that criminalizes hate speech online or offline.

However not all EU countries have implemented these definitions equally in their national legislations. For example, Germany has introduced probably the strictest legislation on online hate speech that has been implemented in January 2018, the so-called NetzDG law or Enforcement on Social networks. Its main idea is to force IT companies such as Facebook and Twitter to remove “clearly illegal” content within 24 hours or after 7 days if it requires more evaluation. Social media companies that fail to meet these deadlines can be fined up to 50 million Euro. The law also forces companies to publicly report the number of complaints they received and the way they handled them.

There are many argumentations that such legislation poses a threat to freedom of speech, and that it forces IT companies to censor the online world, that out of fear of the fines they could remove more than necessary.

Similar legislation was submitted in France, the so-called Avia Law that requires the removal of a broad range of “clearly illegal” content within 24 hour of notice, and failure to remove a piece of content could lead to a 250.000 EUR fine for individuals and 1.250.000 for companies.

One of the ways EU is attempting to tackle hate speech online is the Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online. This document was agreed between the European Commission and Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Youtube in 2016. Other IT companies have joined since then. The implementation of the Code is evaluated through a regular monitoring exercise set up in collaboration with a network of organisations located in the different EU countries. Using a commonly agreed methodology, these organisations test how the IT companies are implementing the commitments in the Code.

How is hate speech regulated in Slovenia? 

Spletno oko deals with hate speech as defined in Article 297 of the Slovenian Criminal Code. According to the Criminal Code, hate speech is defined as public incitement to hatred, violence and intolerance towards certain social groups in a way that may lead to an immediate threat, insult or harassment. Whoever publicly provokes ethnic, racial religious or other hatred, strife or intolerance, or provokes any other inequality on the basis of physical or mental deficiencies or sexual orientation, can be punished by imprisonment of up to two years. The same sentence can be imposed on a person who publicly disseminates ideas on the supremacy of one race over another or provides aid in any manner for racist activity or denies genocide, holocaust, crimes against humanity, war crime, aggression or other criminal offences against humanity.

Due to the high criteria required to prosecute hate speech in Slovenia, there are few cases that were recognized as criminal offenses. However, year after year we are increasingly confronted with the problem of all other forms of intolerance. Although these forms of intolerance are not punishable by law, they can still cause harm. Most intolerant expressions are mainly found in the comments under online news and in various online forums.

What is the role of the Code between Spletno oko and Slovenian news portals in tackling different forms of hate speech?

The Code for regulation of hate speech on web portals in Slovenia was conducted as a result of an initiative of some online media in Slovenia. It was signed on December 14. 2010, between the hotline Spletno oko and 6 major national web portals, namely Delo.si, Dnevnik.si, MMC, Siol.net, Vecer.com and Zurnal24. In 2011 three other portals have joined. The code was prepared with the aim of establishing uniformed guidelines for regulation of hate speech on Slovenian web portals. The code initially provided for the regulation of only such hate speech that would constitute a violation of Article 297. KZ-1 (Criminal code of Slovenia). But later the working group adopted a decision that the signatories of the Code also moderate other forms of impatient and insulting speech.

The Code provides for mandatory registration of users who want to comment and moderation of comments that appear under the news articles – user generated content. In addition, it calls for the participation of portal representatives (usually editors) in a working group that meets on a regular basis.

‘Spletno oko’ is a platform where hate speech can be reported – what is its mission, how is it organized?

The Spletno oko hotline allows Internet users to anonymously report hate speech and child sexual abuse images if they come across them online. The hotline was established in September 2006 at Safer Internet Program and began taking reports in March 2007, after cooperation with the police and the necessary technology were put in place.

Hotline Spletno oko is part of the Safer internet Centre, which is coordinated by the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences, in cooperation with partners Arnes, Slovenian Association of Friends of Youth and Centre MISSS (Youth Information and Counseling Centre of Slovenia). The hotline is funded by the European Commission (INEA agency) and the Slovenian Ministry of Public Administration.

Members of Advisory Board of Safer Internet Center are also the Office of the State Prosecutor General of the Republic of Slovenia, the General Directorate of Police, representatives of the media and representatives of other organizations, working in the field of child protection. The main task of the Spletno oko hotline is to reduce the amount of child sexual abuse images and hate speech online, in cooperation with the Police, Internet Service providers, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The hotline realizes its mission by reaching out to the following GOALS:

  • Hotline operation, which allows anonymous report of illegal content on the internet;
  • Raising awareness about illegal online content;
  • Fast and effective analysis of the received reports;
  • Cooperation with other hotlines around the world, to share reports and best practices;
  • Monitoring on notice&take down of child sexual abuse images reports on Slovenian servers.

What exactly happens once an instance of hate speech is reported on your platform?

The report gets reviewed by our employees who assess whether or not the content is alleged illegal. When speaking of hate speech, they assess whether it is an alleged violation of Article 297 (criminal offence of public incitement to hatred), and when speaking of child sexual abuse images, whether it is a potential breach of Article 176 of KZ-1 (recordings or child sexual abuse). In the case of alleged illegal content, the report is then forwarded to the police, otherwise it is rejected. The applicant can get feedback if he wishes to, for that, he must enter his e-mail address into the space provided in the application form. If he does not do that, the report can be absolutely anonymous. The email address will be used only for the purpose of feedback and will not be passed on to third parties.

What does the cumulative experience of ‘Spletno oko’ reveal about hate speech trends in terms of perpetrators, targets, types of hate speech over the past decade?

Looking at our annual reports, we can see that the numbers of reported cases of hate speech have been rising from 2007 when the hotline was established up until 2012 when it reached the highest numbers. In 2012 we have received 4707 reports of hateful content online. After that, the numbers started falling but lately – meaning in the last few years – seem to rise again. In terms of perpetrators we can see that more than third of the cases are classified as socially unacceptable hate speech, around one third as insulting speech, around 15% of the cases were assessed as alleged illegal hate speech and in around 15% of the cases there were no elements of hate speech. If we look at the categories in terms of victims, in the last few years we can see that the most common targets are migrants (42% in the last annual report) and Muslims (23% of the cases in 2019). Then come cases with political background, homophobia, xenophobia, hatred against the Roma, racism and antisemitism. Among the cases we have reported to the police, the majority (69%) were classified as incitement to murder or killing, 16% as incitement to violence and 12% were the Holocaust or war crimes denial.  

The regional program “Media for Citizens – Citizens for Media: Strengthening the Capacity of NGOs for the Development of Media and Information Literacy in the Western Balkans” is implemented with the support of the European Union by partner organizations Mediacentar SarajevoAlbanian Media Institute,Macedonian Institute for MediaMontenegrin Media InstituteNovi Sad School of JournalismPeace InstituteSEENPM.