Hate speech, a serious problem that is constantly increasing
The working group appointed by the Finnish Government to tackle hate speech proposes to define specific measures to intervene when a person is targeted because of his or her occupation or membership in a minority, as well as the creation of a center of expertise against hate speech.
Hate speech is "a serious problem" and is "on constant rise", says the Finnish Government in a joint press release issued by the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Education and Culture, which explains the conclusions of the working group created by the authorities to tackle this phenomenon.
The analysis carried out by these experts highlights the need for the new Government to define policies for its eradication.
The independent expert working group was appointed by the three mentioned governmental departments and included representatives from the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Council for Mass Media, the Police Department of Helsinki, the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations, the Union of Local Youth Councils in Finland, and several researches.
According to the information provided by the Government, the key conclusion of those experts is that work against hate speech is being carried out, "but it is rather unorganized and lacks coordination". This is due to the fact that "it is mostly based on individual projects and therefore it is not very systematic".
The experts also remarked that "the amount of hate speech is on constant rise, and it keeps on talking new forms and being directed against new groups of people". Another problem identified by the researches is that "the possibilities of the victims to get help vary considerable depending on the case". According to experts, this is because despite being a growing problem "the legislation does not provide tools to address the current situation".
"Hate speech is fueled by the social, societal and cultural reality that we live in. It is closely connected with the technical means available, especially the internet and social media. Essentially, tackling hate speech is a question of defend human dignity", stressed the chair of the working group, Archbishop Emeritus Kari Mäkinen.
In this context, hate speech refers to all forms of expression that spread, incite, promote or justify ethnic hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism or other hatred that is based on intolerance.
Other forms of influencing, such as disinformation and fake news, are also associated with hate speech. The working group also dealt with targeting, which refers to a situation where a large group of people direct hate speech against a single individual.
The working group calls for more efficient measures to intervene in targeting, especially in cases where a person is targeted because of his or her occupation or membership in a given minority. In this sense, the working group proposes that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior assess the needs and possibilities to develop the legislation in order to address targeting.
A center of expertise against hate speech
One of the working group’s proposals is that the Government should decide that an action plan against hate speech be drawn up. In addition, the working group proposes that a center of expertise against hate speech be established. The center would be responsible for collecting and analyzing information about hate speech, discrimination, racism, hate crime and other hate incidents to support the preparation of policies, reports and measures.
The center would conduct studies on topical and important themes and follow the international development in the area. It would also monitor and coordinate the measures taken by authorities and civil society actors to fight hate speech. Information about hate speech should also be collected at regional level, and the authorities should make use of this information when they plan local and regional measures, explained the experts.
Broader right to bring charges
Finland’s national legislation does not include a definition of an offence called ‘hate speech’. However, it constitutes a criminal offence when the essential elements of some offence are present. The most common such offence is incitement against a population group.
Even in cases where the essential elements of any offence are not present, hate speech can constitute harassment prohibited under the Non-Discrimination Act or the Act on Equality between Women and Men.
The working group considers that hate crime related to freedom of expression should be made subject to public prosecution at least in situations where a person becomes a target of hate speech because of his or her official duties, work, or position of trust. If such acts were subject to public prosecution, charges for them could be brought even if the injured party did not demand punishment.
Instructions to schools
Schools and other authorities working with young people should be provided with instructions on how to intervene in online hate speech. The Finnish National Agency for Education is currently in the process of drawing up a guide for preventing bullying, including cyberbullying.
The contents of the guide will be put into practice as part of the continuing education of teachers. The working group proposes that the procedures and instructions for tackling hate speech and cyberbullying be clarified, as clear instructions and foreseeable activities would strengthen young people’s trust that adults will intervene in hate speech and cyberbullying.