social-mediaRecently, Debating Europe has been looking at the issue of freedom of speech in Europe. We’ve been discussing whether “hate speech” should be banned and whether it should be illegal to deny crimes against humanity such as the holocaust or crimes carried out by communist regimes. There are already several countries in Europe where both of these things are illegal, but there are also many countries that take a more liberal approach. Today, however, we’d like to look at freedom of speech online.

Many of you were critical of the idea of restricting freedom of speech. Mihail, for example, argued that banning a person from saying something abusive will not stop them from thinking it:

If you forbid freedom of speech this [means that people will just hate more]… Legalize everything. When people have enough, they will stop with the hate speech!

It’s worth pointing out that almost no society currently enjoys “total” freedom of speech. There are almost always legal limits when it comes to harassment, libel or incitement to violence, and most countries in Europe already prohibit hate speech to a greater or lesser extent. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets out freedom of expression as a qualified right, which guarantees freedoms but also carries both “duties and responsibilities.”

This was precisely the argument made by another of our commenters, Dionator, who argued that setting no limits at all can, perversely, produce a chilling effect on freedom of speech:

The aim here is not to suppress people’s freedom of speech, but to ensure peaceful existence within a diverse society. By banning the Nazi salute, Germany didn’t violate freedom of speech. It sent a clear message to those who sympathise with the Nazi ideology [and] removed from them a platform from which they disseminated their harmful ideologies. There are some basic conditions that must exist before we can speak of democracy. Trying to ‘defend’ [freedom of speech] by allowing some to destroy the rights and dignity of others is nothing more than fundamentalist thinking.

In recent weeks, there has been an outcry in the UK over online rape threats sent to a female MP and bomb threats sent to female journalists via Twitter, as well as controversy following the deaths of several teenagers in the UK, US and Ireland, all apparently driven to suicide by cyber-bullying. Should it be easier to report abuse online, and should website owners be held accountable to a greater extent for policing the abuse that takes place on their websites?

Indeed, this is an issue that we have to consider on a daily basis at Debating Europe. Should we moderate our comments section more strictly? Where is the line drawn between a trolling and abusive comment, and legitimate debate? Do we get the balance about right? As always, let us know your thoughts below and we will take some of your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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What do YOU think? Where should the line be drawn between a trolling comment and legitimate debate? Should we moderate our comments section more strictly? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their opinions.

  1. Enzo

    I like the system used on reddit.com, where users can vote each individual thread or comment, resulting in crowdsourced moderation. Thus more relevant comments go at the top, and irrelevant comments don’t. As always, educating youth in nettiquete and behaviour, and how to deal with abuse, has to be a common goal of parents and educators.

  2. Christos Mouzeviris

    No…!! Why should any website be held accountable about whoever idiot uses its services? Why in Western Europe and America people are treated like princesses and little queens? Whatever bad or nasty they do, someone else is getting punished for it or has to face the consequences!! That is why Europeans, Americans and Westerners in general have become so obnoxious and arrogant, annoying little brats, because that is how we treat each other..If you make any stupid abusive comments, or you threaten anybody, even if it is for a joke, it is you who must face the music and take responsibility for your actions.. Not some poor employee in these websites who missed to spot your comments..Because that is what is going to happen, if you punish Twitter or Facebook for the stupidity of others, they will punish their employees who failed to spot the comments … The only action that social networking sites must comply with, is to end their users’ anonymity.. Everybody who posts in any social network platform, they must have their name published.. No nicknames, so no idiot can hide behind their anonymity and abuse fellow people.. If they will know that whatever they say will be linked to themselves they will definitely think twice before they type nonsense in social networks.. That is the only solution, if you ask me!!

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      No! No! No! No! No! Social platform anonymity is essential for whistle-blowers especially those residing in corrupt or dictatorial countries or indeed countries with a history of same like some of the Club Med countries.

      Anonymity, should IMHO only be usurped if a criminal offence under such a guise has taken place.

    • Enzo

      Ending anonymity would mean that whistleblowers, activists, etc. would be forced out of the scene. It would mean, for example, that internet access would be link to an individual ID (Such as in Ender’s Game). It would mean that a lot of illegal stuff would stop, but it would also mean total control of our content and whereabouts online by the government. And when I say by the government I mean the US government, who will probably be able to snoop their way into things.

      No, internet must remain anonymous (a lot more than it is now). People need to learn how to deal with bullies but more importantly, people need to be educated NOT to bully. By parents and schools.

    • Limbidis Adrian

      @Enzo: “A lot of illegal stuff would stop”.
      The definition of “illegal” is VERY dangerous to thread on.
      In the US now it is..”illegal” to expose WAR CRIMES apparently considering the Bradley Manning case.
      Do we want more or less of those “illegal” thing happening?

    • diday

      You are right. The person themselves must be the one to desire to be helped. They know what they feel and what is happening to everyday activities if it is being affected or hampered or if it is already hurting. Some are being deliberately helped by their love ones yet we desire a voluntary submission and acceptance. check on conquerseries.com

    • Ben

      Although I agree with you in that each person is responsible for their own actions, when it comes to speech, people have the right to say what they want, and online there is no reason why they should reveal their identity, by having anonymity people are free to express their opinion, without risk of more aggressive actions being taken by people who are less civilized. You see it all the time online, someone reveals their identity and says something that is controversial or that someone disagrees with and suddenly they end up with a load of death threats.
      Looking at it we should live in a world where we can say what we want and there be no risk of someone trying to kill you for it, for stating an opinion the only response that someone should receive from someone who disagrees is criticism. However unfortunately this is not the case and therefore anonymity is also very important.

      In response to the question of the debate I personally believe that you have the right to say what you want, however whoever owns the website you post it on also has the right to delete it as it is their website, by posting using someone else’s website you accept the fact that they might delete it.
      Comments on websites should be moderated as strictly as the owner of the site chooses to. In the case of this website the comments should only be removed if they deviate heavily from the topic, (e.g. debate about climate change, and someone starts talking about racism or other topics not associated with the debate)

  3. Christos Mouzeviris

    Tareq where the hell do you see any whistle blowers on social networks uncovering secrets?

  4. Christos Mouzeviris

    Enzo, do you seriously think that if the US government really wants to find you, it can not because of your anonymity? People are nasty by their nature, it doesn’t mean that is someone is educated it will stop bullying.. Humans are complicated creatures and they have their animal side.. No matter how educated someone is, there will always be some with inferiority complexes and jealousy that will like to bully someone because it feels right to them… Bullies know very well that what they are doing is wrong, yet they still doing it.. No need to teach them that.. I guess I am speaking to two trolls that is why you prefer your anonymity.. But I put my name in everything that I write..If the US government wants to find me they already have! “Hello Mr. Obama, I love you!!” :o) …. Whistle-blowers like Snowden and Assange used their own website to leak what they thought it was important.. Activists should put their ideas forward with their name, to make them valid.. If someone thinks that by using anonymity his/hers arguments are more convincing to the people, then I am afraid they are wrong… Why would anyone believe something that comes from an unidentified source? There are many anonymous websites and blogs out there which write absolute nonsense, fantasy and conspiracy theories that only a fool would believe..If they were eponymous, I would tend to believe them more because then I could track or evaluate the background of the person who wrote them and decide if the information is valid, believable or not…!!

    • Limbidis Adrian

      Wrong!
      Education IS the key, the more of it and specialized about social interaction and sociable behavior the less “problems” people will have.
      Jealousy, hate, racism, bullying are all symptoms of a larger problem.

  5. Marilina Asero

    Respond to this question: is postal service held accountable for letters of menace or just the author of it? Are cutlery manufacturers held accountable if someone use a knife to committ a crime or just the author of the crime? Well, apply same principle to internet.

    • Enzo

      That is an excellent analogy. Bravo.

  6. JJ

    I don’t like the kind of censorship taking place at the moment in regards to the internet. Considering it’s a very open forum going beyond national borders and across cultures it does look like governments are very eager to police what’s on it and how people should communicate through it. It was designed to be open and has been of far more benefit than any nationally controlled system.
    The internet has a particular style to it and has coined its own lingo (hence “trolling”) and I find the more internet savy one is the better one can can take advantage of the web. The laws in question and the voices one hears seems to be from those who can’t get along in a free web or even get used to how the net (or even a computer) works.
    That aside, we hear lots of news about people wanting to ban this term or that. I do harbour a feeling that many people should toughen up to insults or start learning how to deal with distasteful opinions that are only communicated through a computer screen, rather than cry foul every time, it ruins the internet for the vast majority when we use a sledgehammer to regulate the net. This is probably more to do with education.
    I have plenty of sympathy for those who receive nasty threats, though we already have criminal codes for most of these.
    One can’t blame twitter of websites for this, the solutions proposed (such as checking each tweet or live reporting) are unworkable and would cost a fortune in staff (goodbye twitter!). If people can be identified, please prosecute but the solutions being proposed currently are either created through ignorance of technology or cynical attempts to appeal to a luddite audience, not sure which.
    As the internet says: “Don’t feed the trolls”

  7. Limbidis Adrian

    I’m sorry since when “Debating Europe” started picking these rather trivial topics for…debate?
    Trolls crave attention, if we GIVE IT to them – like we are now by the way – then they will keep at it.

    No the answer is not “moderation” – mdoerators are proven to be biased and abuse their power.
    NO, community moderation does not work either. Want to see why not, take a stroll through Youtube’s comment section and see what comments are rated up and which are rated down?
    Answer:
    Neo-nazi, racist comments are rated up ( even 200 points up ) and sane people are thumbed down to hell for disagreeing.
    People calling for the dissolution of the EU are also propped up by UKIP drones and other reactionary forces hard at work.

    Another example is Yahoo Answers where any dolt with an axe to grind can ‘report abuse” and you don’t get any say about it, your question/ answer is deleted and good luck with that appeal.
    In other words GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT.

    In fact this whoel push for this kind of thinking is the problem.
    We are adopting that sickness from America. THEY think that way now.
    Everyone is a suspect, a ‘troll” for disagreeing a ‘dissenter’ or somrhing to be silenced.

    Iceland and mr Cameron in the UK’s latest escapades with their obsession with pornography ban is the latest. In their rush to appease control freaks from the fringe of the political spectrum ( feminists on the left and right wing nut jobs ) they are willing the sacrifice the MAIN thing the internet offered us.
    NEUTRALITY.

    “Trolls” is just the latest scare tactic.I have browsed the net for over 20 years now and i have met many trolls – my solution ? stop – giving – them – attention.

    Surely the EU has bigger issues that this.

  8. Christos Mouzeviris

    Adrian education alone is not enough to stop the bullies.. Perhaps that will work for the new generation.. Some of them need psycoligical evaluation and support.. Kids from dysfuctional families will always try to bring others dow that are “lucky” to be born in a more priviledged background.. Seen it happening!! But certainly education in early years will help in the future…

    • Limbidis Adrian

      I use the term ‘education” generally, not just normal curriculum but education about how a society should function.
      Because clearly this one is f-ed up beyond recognition.

  9. Christos Mouzeviris

    Cool… We agree on that then!

  10. Marcel

    I’m sure the Brussels crowd would love to declare that criticism of the undemocratic Eurosoviet Union (EU) is hate speech.

    They’d have to shut half the internet down considering there are so many who do not support ‘more integration’ or ‘give your money to the bankers on orders of Brussels/IMF/ECB’.

    In the ideal world according to Brussels apparatchiks, anyone who dissents from the official EU approved line, will be declared mentally ill and locked up (think: East Germany/Stasi where they really did such things).

    Brussels sez: dissent is not allowed, dissenters and dissidents are dangerous!

    The EU-ites keep saying there is only one path, one option and no alternatives. This of course is not democracy because in democracy there need to be minimum two choices.

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Marcel
      Well said Marcel! What’s really worrying is the regular EU FUNDAMENTALISTS posters that want further power attributed to an already corrupt EU?

      People like ‘Christos Mouzeviris’ and ‘Limbidis Adrian’ display such perverted and unquestioning loyalty towards the EU that one might even ‘think’ they get paid for their unnerving and unswerving support.

      What said parties don’t understand is that the EU on paper IS a good idea but the frightening pace of EU power acquisition, the refusal to improve laws/check-mechanisms, the repeated dark machinations [ignoring plebiscites, coercing plebiscites until the result is to the EUs satisfaction, destroying the human right of one-person-one-vote the very basis of democracy, ‘dark accounts’ etc etc] serve as a warning that something is ‘rotten’ in the state of Brussels!

      But NO – these EU FUNDAMENTALISTS wish to attribute greater power to the corrupt EU.

      What surprises me most though is that EU FUNDAMENTALISM appears to be a common trait of people who are accustomed to dictatorial rule – bizarre hey what?

  11. XYZ

    Ignore them.
    Trolls use their comments to force people to debate.

  12. Van_Patten

    Marcel

    Absolutely spot on. I am certain, given the extreme similarity between the fashion which the EU and its forebear, the USSR are structured, it was only a matter of time before they looked at freedom of expression on the Internet – it take very little imagination to visualise people being subject to investigation for ‘Eurosceptic’ thoughts. Based on the appalling comments of Adrian Limbidis (apparently people calling for recognition of national independence against a supranational bureaucracy are ‘Trolls’) there’s no shortage of fifth columnists already active in the European arena….

  13. Antinazi Archimedes

    Trolls that work for the government are very important to the government. Their job is to eliminate political opponents. They work with the police to smear otherwise innocent people and the cops make the forgeries to frame and convict innocent people who voice their political opinion on the Internet. Like exposing human rights violations by various fascist governments. We don’t need your “protection”.

  14. Guest

    Internet abuse really has several forms and today it is a big problem. Iäll take an example.

    There is an australian man, who has joined in many different computer technology related websites or forums. He behaves as he is a professional, and indeed he seems to know a lot about the subjects he’s talking about. But whenever he sees an counter argument, differentiation opinion from his own, or has another reason, he begins to talk very arrogantly. Sometimes it is just sarcasm, but usually it is not enough for him. He may begin to talk to other people as they have failed and even try to snub them. Sometimes he may claim that his victims are stupid, h**osexuals, idiots, etc. He does not respect other people’s opinions either.

    In one forum, where he was registered, moderators did not usually care about his actions. Once he had so bad flaming streak, and beign a member for years, he was finally banned. But that was not the end of the story. He was silent for about two years and registered to the forums again with a similar user name. Moderators just did not care and he is again insulting other people in the same forums.

    Like I said, this person has registered to multiple forums and has similar actions everywhere he goes, all the moderators just do not care.

    We really need to find out the ways of how to keep discussions clean and civil. Saddest fact is that some people have even killed themselves after beign abused in the Net.

    One thing is certain: we need more actions from moderators of the boards.

  15. smartness

    I’m not sure where the idea of a “troll” even came from. To say someone else is a troll implies that you do not tolerate differences in opinion, it’s an ad hominem attack and does not support principles of equality among people. Whatever opinion you have, doesn’t mean you have the right to censor other people’s opinions. It is not your place to decide what is wrong and what is right. You are not the higher power. The majority will determine what is right and wrong. Also for one person to be able to censor another’s thoughts not only infringes upon international law and violates the principles of Western civilization, but also implies that you are somehow better than that person. Aren’t we all equal here? The moderator is not a superior human being to anyone else and thus has no right to censor the thoughts of any particular individual because they don’t like them. This happens quite a bit these days.

    • Brian

      Trolling is not just about a difference of opinion, though. If you are breaking down the conventions of debate through ad hominem attacks, insults, threats, intimidation, etc., then you are trolling.

      Another fundamental principle of Western civilization is the right to own property, and the moderator owns the website upon which we debate. In other words: “my house, my rules” – which is what gives them the right to ban whoever they want, surely.

  16. Yvetta

    Tell them straight how sad they are and that you are aware the trolling is because of their own limitations.

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