Hate crimes are criminal offences motivated by prejudice towards particular groups of people. They are ‘message crimes’ intended to spread fear and feelings of vulnerability among targeted communities. As such, they not only affect individuals directly, but the entire social group that the individual belongs to. Certain communities are disproportionately targeted, because of their race, belief, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and/or expression, national origin, language, disability, social status, or other characteristics.
Online anti-LGBTI abuse is a particularly effective way of sending this message of intimidation to the wider community given that such abuse does not necessarily target an individual but can instead be seen by members of the LGBTI community. For example, in the form of tweets, comments on Facebook/Instagram posts, news articles, and YouTube, and where other LGBTI individuals and/or organisations are targeted. LGBTI people can therefore be targeted both directly and indirectly by online abuse.
On top of that, hate crimes often have an effect on friends and family of the victim, who fear for their loved ones.
Hate crimes always consist of two elements: a criminal offence, and a bias motive.
the act that is committed must constitute an offence under ordinary criminal law.
the act is committed because of a prejudicial bias against a particular societal group. This motive does not need to involve extreme ‘hatred’ toward the victim. Most hate crimes are driven by more everyday feelings such as hostility, resentment or jealousy towards the target group.
As there is no common international definition of what a hate crime is, it is not surprising that the same is true for the concept of hate speech. International bodies identify hate speech differently.
The OSCE defines hate crimes as “criminal offenses committed with a bias motive” (OSCE 2009). Since an act of speaking, without the enactment of the prohibited content, is not a crime (unlike, e.g. homicide, physical assault or damage of property), the OSCE argues that this conceptualization excludes hate speech (ODIHR 2009:25 in RTH 2018).
The definition by FRA (2016a), on the other hand, taking stock of the fact that all EU member states ban incitement to violence and hatred, argues that “[i]ncitement to violence or hatred against a protected category of persons — commonly referred to as ‘hate speech’ — is both a criminal offense and an expression of discrimination and hence a sub-category of the wider concept of hate crime” (RTH, 2018).
Online hate speech is defined as any online communication or expression which advocates, promotes, or encourages hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.
Online hate crime is defined as any crime that is targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice based on a person’s real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics that takes place online.
Below are some examples of hateful online occurrences. While some of these incidents may appear relatively trivial, such as being called abusive names, being sent offensive memes and gifs, and non-acceptance of one’s identity; if this is something you experience on a regular basis, it can become a routine feature of you everyday life which can have a profound impact.
Some others will sound more grave in itself and might be illegal, depending on which country you reside in. As with offline crimes, if the criminal offence has a bias motive (ie., it is motivated by prejudice towards particular groups of people), we can refer to it as a hate crime.
This list contains examples of abuse that members of the LGBTI community have received on the internet, based on the results of the Safe To Be online survey of 2018 (link). These examples might be shocking, triggering or hurtful to individuals who have received abuse. Caution is advised when reading this list. For more information about the survey, go to (link).
1. Illegal pornography
Buying and watching porn is not a criminal offense. Distributing it could be categorized as criminal activity, depending on the legislation. Making or distributing porn without the consent of the participants or child pornography (with under-18s) is always punishable.
2. Spreading non-consensual sexual content
Both recording of sexual images or sound material without permission, and the distribution or forwarding thereof are punishable offenses.
An adult contacting a minor online to build a relationship of trust for sexual abuse is a criminal offense.
4. Illegal sexting
You should never distribute erotic images or sound recordings of someone without the knowledge and permission of that person. Not even if that person ever agreed to make those recordings but didn’t explicitly agree in the current moment. If you do, you are punishable by law. If you spread erotic images of someone below the age of 18, you are always punishable by law, even if you have their permission.
5. Comments that promote/advocate hatred
Statements, comments or posts that wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group and that occur outside of private conversations, are regarded as promoting/advocating hatred. These comments can be criminal offenses and can be prosecuted.
6. (Cyber)stalking or harassment
Stalking or harassment online (on the internet or any other electronic means) counts as a criminal offense under anti-stalking, slander and harassment laws. It can include threats of various kinds, solicitation for sex, false accusations, defamation, slander, identity theft, vandalism and more. If you are a victim of cyberstalking, consider keeping a record of the occurrences for potential reporting. See if there is more that you you can to protect your online life in the section on ‘protecting your accounts’.
7. (Online) sexual harassment
Sexual harassment occurs when cyberstalking or online harassment is sexual in nature, meaning there is any sort of unwanted sexual conduct or activity on a digital platform. This can include a wide range of behaviours that use technology to share digital content such as images, videos, posts, messages, pages etc., on a variety of different platforms (private or public).
The publishing of private or identifying information about a particular individual without their consent. Outing and doxing can often overlap with each other, as those who are doxed are often simultaneously outed as the information relates to their identity. It can have a massive effect on an individual leading to the breakdown of family relationships and friendships as well as problems at work or school.
(Online) blackmail is the criminal offense in which someone demands money or other compensation in return for not revealing information or sharing content such as images, videos, posts, messages, pages, etc. on different platforms without their consent. Emotional blackmail can include someone exhibiting controlling or coercive behavior towards an individual or a group of individuals.
10. Death threats
Death threats are a form of coercion in which someone threatens to kill or have someone or a group of individuals killed. This is considered a criminal offense.
11. (Threats of) Outing
The disclosing of a person’s gender history, sexual orientation or HIV status without their consent. Outing and doxing can often overlap with each other, as those who are doxed are often simultaneously outed as the information relates to their identity. It can have a massive effect on an individual leading to the breakdown of family relationships and friendships as well as problems at work or school.
12. Threats to destroy property
Threats to destroy property are a form of coercion in which someone threatens to destroy someone’s property. This is considered a criminal offense.
13. Threats of sexual assault
Threats of sexual assault are a form of coercion in which someone threatens to sexually assault someone. This is often considered a criminal offense.
14. Threats of physical violence
Threats of physical violence are a form of coercion in which someone threatens to physically assault someone. This is often considered a criminal offense.
15. Threats of corrective rape
Threats of corrective rape are a form of coercion in which someone threatens to rape someone because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Corrective rape is characterized by the perpetrator’s belief they can turn someone heterosexual or make them conform with gender stereotypes.
Insults are a form of disrespectful, harmful or abusive remark toward an individual or a group of individuals. An insult in itself is not necessarily a criminal offense, but repeated insulting can become (a part of) stalking or harassment. Depending on the nature of the insult, they can also prove anti-LGBTI hateful intent.
The repeated or habitual use of insults, coercion, threats or intimidation of an individual or group of individuals online.
Defamation, libel or slander is the act of unjustly harming someone’s character or reputation by publishing, posting or commenting false statements about them. In some jurisdictions defamation or slander is a criminal offense.
19. Cybermobbing or dogpiling
Cybermobbing occurs when a group of individuals come together to attack a single target. Dogpiling is a situation in which criticism or abuse is directed at a person or group from multiple sources. Attacks of this kind can be particularly damaging because of the persistence and quantity of the abuse.
20. Dead naming
When someone refers to a transgender person by the name they used before they transitioned. When deadnaming is intentional and/or habitual, it can be a part of bullying, doxxing, outing, harassing or other. Deadnaming in itself is not a criminal offense.
Trolling is defined as creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.
22. Suicide baiting
Malicious and active encouragement of a person to end their life.
23. Incitement to hatred
When someone publicly spreads a message or information in which a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of a shared characteristic. This can be sexual orientation, gender identity, race, skin colour, religion, belief, disability or other.
24. Revenge porn
Distributing or sharing sexual content of someone without their permission. The images or video may be made by a (previous) partner with their consent at the time and distributed now to blackmail or coerce the victim, punish or silence them. Revenge porn is psychological abuse and can be seen as domestic violence or a form of sexual abuse, depending on the circumstances.
Freedom of speech is a vital human right and a cornerstone of any democratic society. When freedom of speech is compromised, so is democracy. However, when it is being used as the protective blanket under which hate speech can thrive, we need to reevaluate and regulate where the ‘right to provoke or offend’ others ends and hate speech begins. Freedom of speech will remain an illusion when large parts of society are silenced by the ‘freedom of speech’ of others.
There is a thin line between hate speech and free speech, especially in an online environment. That being said, a clear distinction can be made between the two. Judge a comment, post, text or meme by its purpose and ask yourself the following question: does it incite hatred and discrimination towards others, or does it encourage debate?
International cooperation and awareness raising is essential. In order to preserve both freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination, every internet user should be made aware of the potential impact their contributions may have.