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Ooh, missus! Brussels gets to the bottom of hate speech


THE European Commission is considering proposals to implement a public awareness campaign about the dangers of so-called ‘hate speech’ which will involve stamping ‘anti-hatred’ messages on everyday consumer items, including toilet paper.

The proposal is part of a raft of measures drawn up by the European Citizens’ Panel on Tackling Hatred in Society, which is advocating greater EU controls across the bloc to prevent the spread of all forms of what it terms ‘hate speech’.

What might such a campaign look like on the ground? It should be ‘catchy and humorous . . . to really reach and change people,’ say the panel.

A wide set of ‘creative’ and ‘unusual’ channels should be used ‘to educate the population on what is prohibited and damaging hateful speech and what behaviours are encouraged, including billboards, various newspapers, specialised publications on the topic (potentially free of charge), lorries, radio, metro/public transport screens, supermarket flyers, newspapers, shopping receipts and similar measures.

‘Specifically, a free movie on the subject could be broadcast for free [sic] across the EU. Another important approach is to involve influencers, such as actors, singers and people in the media in the awareness-raising campaigns to reach out to younger generations and other audiences using formats that are appropriate to them.’

The panel encourages use of ‘more creative, funny and catchy’ approaches. ‘For instance,’ the report says, ‘there could be a campaign with the logo “pasta against hatred” with a QR code leading to information about the initiative on the pasta or other food packages (alternatively on toilet paper), depending on the most popular products in each member state.’

The commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, has welcomed the panel’s report, noting that it ‘recognised the risks of hate speech and issued clear and ambitious recommendations to tackle hate speech’.

Jourová’s colleague, Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, concurred. ‘Together, in a safe and transparent space, [the panel] have deliberated on this crucial issue and produced robust, relevant recommendations,’ she said. ‘I am proud to share [their recommendations] with President von der Leyen and my colleagues in the College of European Commissioners.’

The panel is one of a series of European Citizens’ Panels (ECPs) convened in support of President Ursula von der Leyen’s recent promise to build a European democracy ‘fit for the future’. ECPs consist of around 150 ‘European citizens’, with a quota system ensuring that young people aged 16-25 represent a third of the panel.

Despite the stated aim of ECPs being to ‘give citizens a voice in EU policymaking’, there is more than a whiff of ‘managed democracy’ about the recommendation development process, with a European Commission-approved ‘facilitation team’ providing ‘support’ to the panel alongside a ‘committee of experts’ who offer ‘additional input’.

The panel’s final report adopts a definition of ‘hate speech’ as any speech that is ‘incompatible with the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect of human rights’.

But as this definition’s reference to vague, ill-defined terms such as ‘values’ and ‘human dignity’ suggests, ‘hate speech’ is something of a legal misnomer, since what is being referred to are forms of expression that some people or groups may indeed claim to find insulting, upsetting, or offensive, but which nonetheless receive and warrant legal protection.

The introduction of this element of subjectivity into the policing of hate speech across the EU’s various policies and proposals over recent years has of course not been entirely unintentional, allowing as it does for the European Commission’s unelected bureaucrats to rearticulate what qualifies as ‘hatred’ in their own political interests, thus widening the net of applicability to various individuals and groups whose dissenting views on climate change, mass immigration, and LGBTQ+ issues are ideologically inconvenient.

These points notwithstanding, however, the panel insists there is an urgent need to increase awareness about the prevalence and dangers of ‘hate speech’ via a bloc-wide public campaign.

‘Although we already have different frameworks addressing hatred at the EU level,’ the panel claim that ‘not enough has been done to inform European citizens about these initiatives’. As a result they ‘recommend an awareness raising campaign, rather than hard law or code of conduct on what influencers and professional media channels are allowed to say, as this approach might be perceived as censorship and could create reactance and discontent among people with divergent views and the broader society’.

‘War is peace’, ‘freedom is slavery’, ‘pasta against hatred’. Perhaps in homage to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four they could centre their lavatory-based campaign around the strapline: ‘Big Brother is Wiping You.’

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Dr Frederick Attenborough
Dr Frederick Attenborough
Dr Frederick Attenborough Is Executive Communications and Research Officer for the Free Speech Union.

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