Most of us spend a considerable amount of our time looking at the screen of our phone. Our phone is our main channel to the world outside of our student lives. Each day, it gives me proof that I live in a country full of people I don’t understand.
I am talking about my main scrolling addiction: my Facebook wall. As I am usually quite interested in current topics, I often read news articles posted by various instances or friends. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. However, it really gets interesting at the end of the article, where every Facebook user gladly takes it upon himself to give his opinion on whatever the article is about. Often, a whole battle unfolds between the ones agreeing and disagreeing- usually ending up in some sort of debate about refugees. What strikes me most however is the language of some of these comments: poor spelling, rude phrases, unfounded opinions and worst of all, hateful messages.
To be fair, this is one of my guilty pleasures: I love all the dumb people on the internet, because –let’s be honest- its like watching a really dry British comedy. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that there are actually people behind all the slander on Facebook.
That’s exactly the point of this blogpost. There are actually people behind every hate-post. As Belgium tv show ‘Karen & De Coster’ proved, most people are not so tough when confronted with their own online comments in real life.1 Apparently, people feel safe enough to say things that they wouldn’t dare to say straight to anyone’s face. Those people know they crossed a line when they where confronted afterwards, but that did not deter them from commenting in the first place.
Under Dutch law, it is forbidden to provoke hatred, discrimination or violence. On that ground, the Dutch court fined 8 people today for discriminatory and inflammatory comments on the Facebook page ‘Steun de PVV’. The defendants posted messages calling people to set fire to mosques and other Muslim properties. On the ‘Steun de PVV’ Facebook page, many commented outraged on the ruling, claiming it was against the principle of free speech.
So where is the line? Is there a difference between online and offline slander/discrimination/inflammation?