“We need to put an end to online abuse. We owe it to the democracy we have built up, and we owe it to the victims who suffer mental scars on their souls,” says Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby, chair of the Committee for Welfare in the Nordic Region. The Committee has previously met with a range of organisations and listened to their input on the subject. As a result, the Committee members are in no doubt that this is a challenge faced by all of the Nordic countries and one that they should, therefore, address together. The Committee is recommending to the Nordic Council of Ministers that it draws up a Nordic strategy to combat online abuse and threats, considers setting up a Nordic advisory board as well as a knowledge and inspiration bank, and that the Nordic Region should oblige tech giants to assume even greater responsibility for combating abuse on their platforms.
10 out of 14 of the Committee members have been targets of online abuse
At the Session of the Nordic Council, the Committee for Welfare asked how many of its own members have suffered online abuse. The conclusion was clear and alarming: 10 out of 14. Two members did not respond.
“I’ve been abused online myself but not as badly as many other people. It is important that we take a stand on this issue in the Nordic Region,” says committee member Tobias Drevland Lund.
The tone acts as a deterrent
Multiple studies have shown that the main victims are women, ethnic minorities and people who speak up in public about politics. For example, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have identified an alarming level of threats and sexual harassment against women in national parliaments – 46.9% of respondents reporting death threats or threats of rape and 58.2% reporting sexual harassment on social media. Ordinary citizens have also received abuse. For example, a study from the Danish Institute for Human Rights shows that the tone online deters 59% of Danes from joining in democratic conversations on Facebook.
“The fact that so many people stay out of public debates on social media is a threat to democracy and a violation of the individual’s freedom of expression,” stresses Committee member Liselott Blix.
Illegal sharing of images and the psychological consequences
Another form of online abuse is the illegal sharing of images of an intimate nature without consent. Not enough is known about this phenomenon, but the Ung19 report by the University of Southern Denmark indicates that in every senior school class in Denmark at least one student has been the victim of this form of abuse in the last year. It happens to all age groups and in all walks of life. The abuse ranges from sex videos recorded in secret to stolen nude photos being shared in directories or porn sites worldwide, not to mention even more manipulative behaviour such as editing the faces of unsuspecting people onto naked bodies and sharing the results as fake profiles and images. This form of abuse can have huge psychological consequences for the victims.