Law needed to tackle hate speech on Internet

Law needed to tackle hate speech on Internet

16 January 2011, Sunday / AYŞE KARABAT , ANKARA

Turkish civil society organizations are demanding a new law regulating hate crimes and hate speech, saying racism and xenophobia are spreading fast on the Internet.

At the beginning of this week, Ankara hosted a meeting of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), a body within the Council of Europe (CoE). The meeting brought together national and international experts to discuss the implementation of the ECRI's recommendations to combat discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or other characteristics, and one of the main topics was discrimination and racism on the Internet.

Turkey, like most countries of the world, is not free of crimes against minorities and disadvantaged groups. Among these, crimes motivated by a victim's background or identity are defined as hate crimes. The Turkish Penal Code (TCK), however, includes no such category, and civil society organizations are fighting to have it added.

Despite the lack of such a category in the TCK, Parliament ratified a bill this week that introduces new regulations for broadcasting. According to amendments to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) law, broadcasts will not be allowed to instigate hate and broadcasts that discriminate on the basis of race, language, gender, class, sect or religion will not be allowed. However, regulations regarding the Internet are not included for the time being.

Yaman Akdeniz, an associate professor at Bilgi University's school of law, told Sunday's Zaman that Turkey has signed the Convention on Cybercrime but not the additional protocol “concerning the criminalization of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.”

The additional protocol defines racist and xenophobic material as “any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors.”

Even a quick look at the social networking website Facebook is enough to show that there are many groups which spread hatred and even call for the mass killing of certain groups.

The additional protocol asks for its members “to adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish [hate crimes] as criminal offences under its domestic law,” but, as Akdeniz, pointed out, this is no easy task. Akdeniz said it is easy to spot criminal material such as child pornography that is posted on the Internet, but not so with hate speech because it includes written material also.

He added that websites such as YouTube and Facebook are trying to implement controls and monitoring mechanisms and that it is possible for users to report discriminatory or racist content, but it is very easy to repost banned material on the digital platform after simply changing the name and/or content just a little.

Akdeniz also underlined that there is a very fine line between hate speech and political discourse, another fact that makes the fight against hate speech and hate crimes very difficult.

In interview with Sunday's Zaman earlier this week, ECRI Chairman Nils Muiznieks said discrimination and hate speech on the Internet is a very important issue they are trying to tackle; however, the general recommendations for fighting hate speech, racism and discrimination are outdated and technologically inadequate.

He said the countries most successful in fighting racism and intolerance on the Internet are those with the best cooperation between NGOs, Internet service providers and authorities; however, the level of cooperation is not at desirable levels everywhere and the fine line between freedom of expression and discrimination is very important.

“You need groups that monitor discrimination on the Internet. You need service providers who are willing to listen and engage in dialogue. And you need authorities to step in and punish the bad guys. It is clear that our own tools used to cope with this are outdated. This is a very rapidly developing field. Until very recently MySpace and Google were not willing to talk to organizations such as the ECRI. But they are now beginning to change a little,” he said.

Öztürk Türkdoğan, chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD) underlined that there is a serious gap between regulations on hate crimes and hate speech in general but also on the Internet and that the fine line between freedom of expression and hate speech should be drawn very carefully.

“The measure should be the decisions and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR], but the Internet should not be used as a platform for any form of violence,” he told Sunday's Zaman.

Akdeniz also pointed out that the difficulty of tackling the issue should not prevent civil society from fighting against it, saying that some measures can be taken.

“In order to combat hate speech and discrimination, banning entire websites or networks is not the right solution. This is only pretending that some measures have been taken. Closing platforms should not be considered a solution. Racism and discrimination on the Internet is very much related to the level of racism and discrimination within society. To tackle it, we must raise awareness, though this is no easy task. Fighting racism is similar to fighting terrorism, and both need careful handling and a delicate approach,” he said.