Combating online hate speech and hate crimes requires sustained and wide-ranging efforts. These must aim to ensure both that affected individuals are protected and those belonging to minority groups are not silenced by violence and threats, and that spaces where everyone’s voice can be heard are maintained.

Online hate speech and hate crime incidents are the results of the negative stereotyping of minorities and vulnerable groups including LGBTI people. They may also target individuals known to the perpetrators and include criminal acts like identity theft and blackmailing motivated by prejudice and intolerance.

States are required to prohibit particularly severe forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.


1. The Council’s Framework Decision on Combating Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia by Means of Criminal Law (2008/913/JHA) provides for the approximation of laws and regulations of EU countries on offences involving certain manifestations of racism and xenophobia, especially:
. public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin;
. publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.

The framework decision requires states to sanction racism and xenophobia through effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties. The initiation of investigations or prosecutions of racist and xenophobic offences must not depend on a victim’s report or accusation.


In the UK, there are a number of criminal offences that someone may commit in being abusive online. For example:

  • The Malicious Communications Act 1988​: it is an offence to send indecent, grossly offensive, threatening or false electronic communications with the intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient.
  • The Communications Act 2003: ​it is an offence to send grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages using a public electronic communications network.
  • The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015​: it is an offence to disclose private sexual images without the person’s consent and with the effect of causing the person distress.
  • The Gender Recognition Act 2004: ​it is an offence to disclose information about a person’s gender identity or history if that information was 1) received in an official capacity and 2) the person has applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate.
  • The Protection from Harassment Act 1997​: Harassment is ‘oppressive and unreasonable’ behaviour that causes ‘alarm or distress’, including ‘repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person’.

There are forms of hate speech that are not considered a crime but they may still be upsetting to experience. These can be reported to the police to be recorded as a hate incident. Even though the police are unable to prosecute someone over a hate incident, by reporting you make the police aware of the person’s behaviour. This is particularly helpful if their behaviour continues as several hate incidents may be considered harassment. You can also report a hate incident or crime that you have witnessed even if you were not the target.