Sweden to outlaw… what, exactly?

For years, online hate speech and cyber-bullying have been on the political agenda in Sweden. Now there will be some new laws, covering a wide range of actions and statements.

Let’s have a look at »Insulting behaviour« (PDF, summary in English, page 42-43).

Under the wording we propose, criminal liability will presuppose that someone through accusations, disparaging comments or humiliating behaviour acts against another person in a way that is intended to violate the other person’s selfesteem or dignity.

What does this even mean in real terms? OK, there is an attempt to clarify…

The assessment is to be based on the circumstances in the individual case. However, criminal liability must be determined on the basis of a generally held norm for what represents unacceptable behaviour and what individuals should not be expected to tolerate. This is expressed by the provision stating that the act must have been intended to violate someone’s self-esteem or dignity.

First of all, there seems to be a lot of subjectivity for a law. »Disparaging comments« – isn’t that in the eye of the beholder? »Self-esteem« and »dignity« is something personal, referring to experiences and feelings about a certain situation. It’s very subjective. And »a generally held norm«? Who is to define what that is?

I guess the Supreme Court will have some very difficult decisions to make.

This is sloppy lawmaking in the »safe space« era, where the line between real insults and arguments is blurred. And it gets worse. Page 34, »Our starting points«:

Protection of privacy is also protection of the free formation of opinions and, ultimately, of democracy. There may be a risk that threats against journalists, debaters or opinion-makers result in the person threatened refraining from expressing him- or herself or participating in the public debate.

First of all, take note of the Orwellian twist: To defend free speech, we must limit it.

Second, as one would suspect, it’s not really about teenage bullying in school – but to protect the inner peace and self-image of e.g. journalists and politicians. Suddenly the term »disparaging comments« stands out, in a new light.

So, colorful criticism of politicians might or might not be illegal – on a case by case basis.

Big Brother will be busy.



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