3rd November 2016
By Tom Law

Guidelines for countering online hate speech

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård

Hiding behind the computer or sitting in a corner using a smartphone it has become easier to escalate hatred. Authors, journalists and politicians in particular receive threats, e-mails or SMSs full of hate speech, and social media on top of this have changed the rhetoric. A challenge we need to meet if we don’t want to escalate hatred.

At the Helsinki Book Fair in October 2016 on behalf of the Danish Embassy, the Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic School of Journalism, I carried out a session on how to counter hate speech.

“I started worrying”

The Faroese news editor, Liljan Weihe followed up by telling her story of receiving online abuse:

I wasn’t physically abused, I didn’t personally know the men who threatened me on Facebook but the threat changed the way I saw myself. I am self-confident, strong and independent. But the threats frightened me, made me feel weak and insecure. I started worrying about which signals I was sending out and asked myself if I had somehow provoked the rape threat…

We need more than ever to talk about and debate, how we can fight such hate speech, and that was the aim of the two sessions in Helsinki: Through literature and journalism!

Peter Mickwitz, an author from Finland stressed, that literature is a way to show how far, hatred can bring us and that we need to stop and reflect. Reeta Pöyhtäri, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Tampere commented on the topic, namely how literature and journalism should be key tools to counter hate speech.

She also emphasised the need of more investment in high quality independent journalism and pluralistic media, as it is too easy only to get the information you want and find the dialogue that suits you. The panel also agreed that through literature it is possible to disseminate the message of the consequences of threats and abuses.

Ten point guidelines to counter hate speech

For the way forward, I as a conclusion of the session delivered a draft of guidelines to counter online hate speech. It is obvious that we need to find ways to use a language without hatred. To do that we need to talk about it, and that was exactly what the organisers succeeded in. The guidelines I have developed are:

Guidelines for countering hate speech

#1. Self-regulation. Never leave it to the state to make judgements on media ethics as it will lead to censorship, but take responsibility in the media not to promote hate speech.

#2. Stay away from censoring, but support and develop pluralism in media, as it will reduce propaganda media to one out of a range of media, and that will reduce the extent of hate speech.

#3. Develop mechanisms of early warnings of hate speech online and share information and best practice.

#4. Never let victims of hate speech alone, but identify dedicated colleagues to whom victims always can report safely about abuses and threats, they have received online.

#5. Never accept hate speech, report it each time. We should tackle online abuses by prompt actions. A threat online should be addressed exactly as we address threats offline – by an immediate response and report to the authorities.

#6. Ensure that employers and other persons in leading positions always will have a serious approach and will firmly take action, when they learn about victims of hate speech.

#7. As hate speech happens cross border, international authors’, journalists’ and media organizations should in common develop guidelines to counter hate speech in general and with an approach to social media in particular.

#8. Create dialogue with the owners and editors of social media platform as they must take responsibility to take partnership in countering hate speech.

#9. Create dialogue and confrontation when hate speech authors’ are identified regardless of they are individuals or in groups or organizations.

#10. Media literacy. More and more people – and not only the young – get their news through social media and online comments in particular. Universities – and Schools of Journalism and writing should comprehensively reflect this. We should have a common approach on this together with the educational sector.

Main photo: Reeta Pöyhtäri at the Bookfair (Photo: Mogens B. Bjerregård).

This is an amalgamation of two blogs by Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). You can read the original articles here: