Online hate speech keeps police busy

A new police unit set up to combat online hate speech has been busy in the first few months of the year, investigating more than 50 cases so far. A fifth of those have gone to the prosecutor for consideration of charges.

Kuva: Katju Aro

At the start of March Helsinki police established a unit to investigate online hate speech. They've had plenty to do, as more than 50 cases have been investigated already, with  a fifth of those passed to the prosecutor for consideration of charges.

The majority of probes concern ethnic hatred agitation, in which people are suspected of inciting hatred against an ethnic group. Some are even suspected of inciting violence against Muslims and immigrants.

Other cases have involved suspected slander, breach of religious peace and illegal threats. Jonna Turunen of Helsinki police says that cases have involved Facebook, YouTube and other online forums.

"Suspects include women and men from all over Finland," said Turunen, noting that the Helsinki unit has asked other police departments to help in interviewing the far-flung suspects.

Tips important

The unit does rely on tips from the public, which can be submitted via their website (siirryt toiseen palveluun). Its goal is to prevent, uncover and investigate above all those examples of online hate speech that could be prosecuted.

That generally means offences that could be described as agitation against an ethnic group or breach of religious peace.

"It's impossible to estimate how widely hate speech spreads on the internet, but for sure there will be plenty of cases in the future too," said Turunen.

The unit has only been working for a few months, so Turunen is hoping for a steer on what courts might consider punishable and what is simply unpleasant. That will come, says Turunen, as more and more cases proceed to the courts.