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WHAT CONSTITUTES PUNISHABLE HATE SPEECH ONLINE?

 

Did you know that hate speech can be an offence? It makes no difference whether the hate speech is uttered in person or online. The rules that apply online are the same as everywhere else. It is sometimes difficult to know when an act constitutes an offence. This website helps you to determine whether you should report hate speech to the police. When you have reported the offence, the police will investigate the matter.

 

Hate speech is not only speech

Hate speech is communication that spreads or incites hatred against one person or population group. Such communication may be speech, but it may also be writing, pictures, symbols, music, drawings and films.

 

Hate speech is prohibited by law

Some hate speech is punishable. This means that it is prohibited by the Criminal Code of Finland. The punishment for hate speech may a fine or imprisonment.

 

Hate speech is not freedom of expression

Freedom of expression belongs to everyone, but it also has limits. Freedom of expression does not mean that you can violate the rights of other people. For example, criticising politics is a part of well-functioning democracy. Threatening or defaming people or population groups, on the other hand, is not political discussion.

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CHARACTERISTICS OF PUNISHABLE HATE SPEECH


It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of what kind of speech or other communication constitutes punishable hate speech. However, there are some characteristics that help you to assess this.

 

Caused by hostility or suspicion

Punishable hate speech is based on mistrust or hostility towards a population group. Punishable hate speech is targeted at a particular characteristic of a person or a population group.

The Criminal Code of Finland mentions the following characteristics:

  • race
  • skin colour
  • birth status
  • national or ethnic origin
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • disability.

Hate speech may also be targeted at some other corresponding characteristic, such as gender.
 

Targeted at one person or a population group

Punishable hate speech may be targeted at one person or a population group. If hate speech is targeted at one person, the offence may be defamation or an unlawful threat. If hate speech is targeted at a population group, the offence is ethnic agitation.

 

Ethnic agitation

The following are distinctive features of ethnic agitation:

  • The message containing hate speech has an audience, which means it has readers or recipients. The message has been disseminated to the audience or the message has been published in a way that has made it possible for the audience to see it. Such messages include posts in the social media or a blog. It is also a punishable act to provide a link to such material.
  • The audience is a sufficiently large number of people. The audience may also be a closed group in the social media if the group is large enough or if anyone can join the closed group by registering as a member.
  • Expressions in which a population group is threatened, defamed or slandered are used in the message. The message may approve violence or discrimination against a population group, or hopes that this will happen.
  • Comparing people to animals or parasites is also characteristic of ethnic agitation.
  • The message expresses a wish that a person belonging to a certain population group will become a victim of violence.
  • Members of a population group are generally called criminals, considered to be inferior or called by derogatory names in the message.

 

Hate speech targeted at one person

There are no specific rules for when hate speech targeted at one person is punishable. Any kind of offence that is based on mistrust or hostility against a population group may be punishable. Typical offences targeted at one person online are an unlawful threat and defamation.

 

What constitutes an unlawful threat?

An unlawful threat means that someone threats another person in such a manner that the person has a serious reason to fear for his/her own safety or the safety of another person. For example: the sender of the message in the social media threats another person with violence.

 

What constitutes defamation?

The offence is defamation if the sender of the message spreads false information or hints something that causes harm or suffering. For example: the author of a blog claims that the other person has committed an offence. 

DO THIS WHEN PUNISHABLE HATE SPEECH IS TARGETED AT YOU

DO THIS WHEN YOU SUSPECT THAT YOU HAVE SEEN PUNISHABLE HATE SPEECH

If you see hate speech on a website, you can report it to the police online using the net tip form (https://www.poliisi.fi/nettip). You can submit the net tip form anonymously. The court will decide whether the act is punishable on a case-by-case basis.


 

HARASSMENT IS ALSO PROHIBITED

Harassment often coincides with hate speech. Harassment is also prohibited by law, especially by the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men.

 

What constitutes harassment?

Harassment may be bullying in the workplace, at school or in a customer situation. Harassment includes situations in which someone behaves in a humiliating, condescending or threatening way towards you. More information on harassment can be found on the website of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman (https://www.syrjinta.fi/web/EN/​).

 

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment may be hostile or abusive speech (for example, calling a person gay or a slut) or suggesting sexual intercourse. It may also be touching that happens without your permission. Sexual harassment is used to create a threatening, hostile, humiliating or degrading atmosphere.

 

What constitutes gender-based harassment?

Gender-based harassment is related to gender, gender identity or gender expression. It is behaviour that is aimed at degrading and belittling the other person's gender.

 

Gender-based harassment is not of a sexual nature.

It is used to create a threatening, hostile, humiliating or degrading atmosphere.

You can read more about sexual harassment and gender-based harassment on the website of the Ombudsman for Equality (https://www.tasa-arvo.fi/web/EN/).

For children

Information, support and advice for handling hate speech.

Read more >

For educators

Material for discussing hate speech.

Read more >

Against Hate -project is co-funded by European Union's Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme. The content of this website is the sole responsibility of Ministry of Justice, and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.