Hate Speech -- A Threat to Freedom of Speech

Hate speech may cause fear and can be the reason why people withdraw from the public debate. The result being that important voices that should be heard in the public debate are silenced.
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Hate speech in the public sphere takes place online and offline, and affects young girls and boys, women and men. We also see hate speech attacking vulnerable groups like people with disabilities, LGBT-persons and other minority groups.

Social media and the Internet have opened up for many new arenas for exchanging opinions. Freedom of speech is an absolute value in any democracy, both for the public and for the media. At the same time, opinions and debates challenge us as hate speech are spread widely and frequently on new platforms for publishing.

Hate speech may cause fear and can be the reason why people withdraw from the public debate. The result being that important voices that should be heard in the public debate are silenced. We all benefit if we foster an environment where everybody is able to express their opinions without experiencing hate speech. In this matter we all have a responsibility.

I am especially concerned about women and girls being silenced. Attempts to silence women in the public debate through hate speech, are an attack on women's human rights. No one should be silenced or subjected to threats when expressing themselves in public.

Women are under-represented in the media. In order to get a balanced public debate it is important that many voices are heard. We must encourage women and girls to be equal participants with men. Hate speech prevents women from making their voices heard.

I also call upon the media to take responsibility in this matter. In some cases the media may provide a platform for hate speech. At the same time, I would like to stress that a liberal democracy like Norway strongly supports freedom of speech as a fundamental right.

The Norwegian government takes hate speech seriously. In November, prime minister Erna Solberg and I launched a political declaration against hate speech on the behalf of the Norwegian government. Anyone can sign the declaration online and take a stand against hate speech.

Politicians, representatives of labour unions and organizations are among those who have signed and supported the declaration.

This year the Government will launch a strategy against hate speech. In this connection I have organised several meetings involving organizations and individuals to round table discussions on hate speech, and and received a lot of useful input for our strategy.

One of the things I heard about is how desctructive hate speech can be for women and girls who participate in the public debate. Some are ridiculed, subjected to sexually offensive language and even threatened with rape and violence.

This underlines the importance of combating hate speech. We cannot afford that women are silenced in the public debate, because of their gender.

We need arenas for dialogue, tolerance and awareness of the consequences of hate speech. It is important that we discuss this issue with our own children and in schools. We adults have a great responsibility. We need to think about how we express ourselves when children are present. What we say in our family settings have consequences for how our children behave against other people - online and offline.

In order to combat hate speech we also need knowledge. I have initiated a research that will look into attitudes towards Jews and how minorities look at other minorities. In addition, the University of Oslo has established a centre for research on right-winged extremism. One of the centre`s mandate is to look into hate speech.

The police plays a vital role in the fight against hate speech. Some expressions of opinions are forbidden by law. The new Norwegian General Civil Penal Code's section 185 protects against serious hate speech which wilfully or through gross negligence is made publicly. The Norwegian police forces has established a net patrol that are working on this issue. Additionally they have strengthen their efforts against hate crime.

Hate speech may be directed against people on the basis of ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Hate speech can have serious consequences for individuals, groups and the whole society. It is important to take a stand and show that this cannot be tolerated. Politicians, organizations and other actors in the public debate must show responsibility and actively work against hate speech.

This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. It is one of four posts penned by Nordic leaders that focus on online hate speech and sexism. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.

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