Hate speech and hate crime in the EU and the evaluation of online content regulation approaches
PE 655.135 13
Hate speech and hate crimes poison societies by threatening individual rights, human dignity and
equality, reinforcing tensions between social groups, disturbing public peace and public order, and
jeopardising peaceful coexistence. They effect private lives, or in cases of violent bias crimes, even
victims’ life and limb. They stigmatise and terrify whole communities. They erode social cohesion,
solidarity, and trust between members of society. Hate speech blocks rational public debate, without
which no democracy can exist it leads to an abuse of rights that endangers the rule of law.
Hate speech and hate crime have been steadily on the rise during the past decade. Most importantly,
hate speech has also appeared at the highest level of the public administration of some Member States,
where transformation into policy is just one step away. The liberal stance towards hate speech was built
on the presumption that the state and the social majority would uphold democratic standards under
all circumstances, and distance themselves from hate speakers, who would inevitably remain outcasts.
But when state representatives remain silent or openly support hate speech and hate crimes, this
assumption holds no longer. The non-organised, individual haters derive authority from the failure of
the state to intervene.
No society is immune from the signs of hatred, but whether they get tamed or deepened, depends on
the social measures that are applied vis-à-vis the phenomenon. Whether by speech, action or omission,
the state's reaction creates norms, and informs society about the current acceptable standards.
According to recent academic literature, counter-speech is crucial in the fight against racism and other
forms of intolerance. Counter-speech should be backed up also by action: official policy on social
inclusion, such as education, awareness-raising, and social programmes to level economic and other
inequalities. Besides, counter-action is also recommended: strengthening the institutional system to
combat hate speech and hate crime.
EU Member States (MSs) have diverging rules, and apply different standards to counter hate speech
and hate crimes. In order to ensure that the representation of EU values is mainstreamed, EU regulation
is needed to reinforce the existing standards and to encourage measures to counter-speech and
counter-act against hate speech and hate crime. Primarily, the EU should declare that hate speech at
the level of the public administration, government and governmental officials, authorities, schools and
all public institutions deeply violates the basic values of the European Union and that MSs are obliged
to use all legal means to eliminate this phenomenon, even in its forms which do not reach the criminal
threshold. MSs – and the European institutions – should be obliged by EU law to withdraw funding
provided to, and prohibit political coalition with political parties and other organisations whose
members repeatedly represent views that are irreconcilable with the values of the European Union,
provided that the party or other entity fails to sanction this.
In order to build social resilience, notice should be taken of the fears and concerns that make people
susceptible to populistic, discriminative or even racist views. Linguistic and psychological research
could greatly contribute to yielding fresh knowledge about the intriguing success of hate speech and
populism. Research to process and decode the 'hate narrative' and to define what is the real concern
behind hate should be supported by the EU. Those concerns should be addressed and managed with
adequate and substantial social policy, and also addressed with credible EU narratives which respond
to the fears, inform citizens and reinforce the values of human rights, equality, tolerance and solidarity.
Giving a narrative means to tell the story of Europe, the values and the choices that EU institutions
make day by day.