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Home >> Members >> Members’ Publications >> Hate speech in the public online debate

Hate speech in the public online debate

June 6th 2018

It is important to view the phenomenon of hate speech from a human rights perspective because hate speech touches upon the very core of our democracy: freedom of expression. Having said that, freedom of expression is not an absolute, and thus we are faced with a human rights dilemma. While freedom of expression should be respected, marginalised groups should be protected against acts motivated by hate, discrimination and racism.

The objective of the study by the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) is to gain insight into how often hate speech appears in connection with news dissemination and debate.

This report describes the results of a study about hate speech conducted in 2016. The objective of the study is to gain insight into how often hate speech appears in connection with news dissemination and debate.

The report’s data consist of just under 3,000 comments taken from the Facebook pages of two major Danish news media, DR Nyheder and TV 2 Nyhederne. Based on these comments, they identify trends and patterns in an attempt to get an overview of the scope and nature of hate speech in a defined period. They identified that hate speech is most common in connection with news posts on topics concerning religion, refugees, migration and asylum, and gender equality.

Male contributors are responsible for by far the majority of the hateful comments made (76%), and such comments typically targeted a group rather than a specific individual. In most instances, hate speech is targeted at other people’s political beliefs or at individuals who are professional politicians. Areas that often draw hateful comments are religion and ethnicity. Particularly Islam and individuals from the Middle East or from countries in the Western world outside Denmark are the object of hate speech. Moreover, an individual’s gender is also targeted. Hate speech based on gender is more often targeted at women than men.

They compare these findings with the results from a survey among Facebook users in Denmark, in which the respondents are asked about their experiences with regard to debates and the tone of debates on Facebook. Moreover, they are also asked whether their experiences affect their participation in the public online debate.

Moreover they review existing legislation in the area as well as the overall legal framework as stipulated in international human rights and Danish law.

Overall, in this study they examine the following:

  • The scope of hate speech on the Facebook pages of two major Danish news media, DR Nyheder and TV 2 Nyhederne
  • Topics that spur hate speech
  • Who is responsible for hate speech?
  • Who or what is the target of hate speech?
  • The nature of hate speech
  • The consequences of a harsh tone in the public debate on Facebook.

This report presents a number of recommendations in order to identify measures to enhance the efforts to combat hate speech that appear in the online debate platforms of the news media.

Download the Report from the website of the DIHR