Human rights council slams rise in online aggression in public debate


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Intimidation and aggression are a growing problem facing everyone involved in public debate, and social media platforms should be taking more responsibility for ensuring online safety, the Dutch human rights council College voor de Rechten van de Mens says in its latest annual report.

This year the report’s main theme is that of freedom of speech which is coming increasingly under pressure, chairwoman Jacobine Geel said. ‘Debate is increasingly being replaced by online and offline shouting matches, insults and threats, or even physical violence.’

Journalists, politicians, experts, academics, columnists and bloggers are all increasingly being targeted and ‘this has consequences for all of us,’ she said.

Nature minister Christianne van der Wal and virologist Marion Koopmans are among two of the most recent victims. Andreas Voss, a member of the government’s coronavirus task force has spoken about an ‘anonymous letter with letters cut out of a newspaper’, while anti-Zwarte Piet campaigner Jeffrey Afriyie and his family were threatened with death.

Women in particular face gender-related threats, including sexist and belittling comments, as well as being threatened with sexual violence.

Addresses

The government has taken some steps to reduce aggression against journalists and politicians and is working on more plans to protect others, the council said. In addition, the Chamber of Trade has finally agreed to remove addresses from parts of its public register and legislation is being introduced which will ban doxing, or spreading people’s address online without permission.

At the same time, online companies such as Meta and Twitter should do more to tackle hatred and calls for violence online, the council said.

It has published a string of recommendations for the government, ranging from urging the police to give higher priority to tracking down those making the threats to doing more to tackle online misinformation.

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