From Iceland — Welfare Minister Wants To Curb "Hate Speech" Online

Welfare Minister Wants To Curb “Hate Speech” Online

Published November 27, 2015

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
RentVine/Creative Commons

Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðardóttir believes it may be “necessary to limit freedom of expression” in order to reduce hate speech online and revenge porn. The idea has not been well received by other members of parliament.

In a speech the Minister gave at the Equality Assembly last Wednesday, Eygló addressed the subject of online hate speech and revenge porn, and how the government ought to respond.

“Hate speech on the internet undermines democracy and calls for operations, for example, regarding the distribution of information and naked photos because it goes against the right to privacy and increases gender inequality,” she said. “We also need to discuss when it can be considered necessary to limit freedom of expression, and we need to discuss how we restrict hate speech on the internet, as perpetrators can easily escape the rule of law, for example by uploading to a porn site in countries with limited legislation and, more often than not, hiding behind anonymity.”

Not everyone was entirely thrilled with the Minister’s idea, Vísir reports, as numerous members of parliament, from both the opposition and the ruling coalition, have come forward expressing their dissatisfaction and confusion over the idea.

“Eygló can and may speak as she wants about whether it is right to cut basic human rights,” Pirate MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir posted on Facebook. “But I promise to stand in the way of freedom of expression being cut or limited.”

Left-Green chairperson Katrín Jakobsdóttir said that she has already submitted legislation that would add a ban on hate speech to existing laws on the media.

“I don’t know what these ‘operations’ [Eygló proposes] would entail,” Katrín told reporters. “But one might ask how existing laws are followed,” referring to Article 233(a) of the General Penal Code, which already bans hate speech. “Freedom of expression is a basic right, but it must not restrict the freedom of others. At the same time, a discussion has started on legally defining what revenge porn is, which is I think is natural. But this needs to be examined very carefully.”

Árni Páll Árnason, the chairperson of the Social Democrats, agrees that revenge porn is a serious issue, but believes that education is a better solution to the problem.

“Myself, I receive hundreds of emails with disrespectful and disgusting word choices, even threats, that I answer if I see any kind of substance to them,” he added. “And without exception, I receive courteous and well-behaved responses back. It seems as though people don’t realise that they’re not writing in an emotionless vacuum but are shooting sharp arrows. As the ancient Persians said: there are two things that cannot be taken back – an arrow that has been shot, and a word that has been said.”

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, the general secretary of the Independence Party, also expressed confusion with Eygló’s suggestion.

“It is actually unbelievable that a minister would speak so freely about freedom of expression, to talk about limitations on basic human rights as if it’s a natural step to take,” she said. “It is precisely her constitutionally protected right to speak this way, just as it’s the constitutionally protected right of everyone else to put forward their opinion that they aren’t pleased. It is dangerous to limit freedom of expression, one of the foundation rights of a free, democratic society. Discussions in society always need strong protection, even though they can be hurtful and critical. Hate speech is the result of ignorance and stupidity, a problem that won’t be solved with a ban, but with education in an open discussion.”

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