Hate speech and safety of private life

Hate speech and its dangerous consequences for private life

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People use hate speech only when they think that they know something about an individual or a group. A completely anonymous person or social group cannot fall victim to hate speech unless being “anonymous” becomes identified with certain personal characteristics.

Revealing basic aspects of a group’s identity can easily turn the group into a victim of hate speech. Such is often the case for women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, etc.

If someone falls into such a target group, revealing personal information online and allowing to be made a connections to the group’s identity in real life can become a risk to personal safety. Providing private or personal information can pose a particular risk in cases of cyberbullying and online hate speech. Many people share personal information online, including photos, information about their relationships with other people, and details about where they live and study. If for some reason they become targets of cyberbullying, this information may often be used to harm them.

The Internet and social networks are public spaces in the same sense as the street or the shopping centre: other people are “around” and can see everything we do.

Moreover, specific features of our lives in the virtual world can create more problems with the confidentiality of our personal data than in the real public space. In most cases on the street we know that other people are looking at us, we even know where they choose to look or not. In the online space, however, we have no clear idea that people are watching us and we have even less awareness of how we can protect ourselves against their gaze. Lack of such awareness can leave us completely exposed to threats or exploitation, both physical and psychological. Those who choose to bully, torment, threaten or exploit, make it much easier if they have enough information about their victims. Privacy issues online are particularly important in the fight against cyberbullying.

Key messages

• The Internet is a public space where everyone can see what we are doing and what we are like, even when we think that they cannot.

• The Internet hides its own dangers: there are people who would use personal facts or information to harm someone or commit an offense. These possibilities should be limited by taking appropriate measures.

• Whatever is posted online stays there forever! Everyone needs to be aware of this, both young people and adults, and to consider whether the personal details they reveal today may be something they will regret later.

• It is extremely important to respect the privacy and safety of others. This does not only mean that we should not engage in harmful and offensive behaviour. It also means that we need to be careful about sharing information about other people, which could be used to harm them.

• There are more and more human rights protections that apply when other people access information about us without being given them willingly, as well as when things about us are posted online violating our privacy.

• There are many organizations and public institutions that can help in such cases – especially when young people are affected. Young people have every right to report cases of abuse or exploitation online.

• There is no real online anonymity. Anything that happens online can be traced back to the person who posted it. There is also no impunity. Many forms of hate speech and cyberbullying are punishable by law.


BOOKMARKS. A Manual for Combating Hate Speech Online through Human Rights Education. 2016. (Revised edition, with the inclusion of the Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users). Council of Europe. Authors: Keen, E Georgescu, M .: https://rm.coe.int/090000168065dac7.

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