Freedom of expression enables people to share their views without being prosecuted. The spreading of some such material is illegal, but much is not, meaning that the police and other law enforcement agencies simply do not have the power to take action against it. The legislation that is in place aims to balance freedom of expression with the right to be free from hate crime … inciting hatred on the grounds of race, religion, gender or gender orientation. Online content – on websites, social networks and chatrooms – can also be unlawful when it threatens or harasses a person or group of people. If this hostility is based on any of the above mentioned or disability, it its considered to be a hate crime, whether it comprises words, pictures, videos or music.
The vast majority of people – certainly including law enforcement – embrace and promote good relationships between different parts of the community, regardless of race, colour, beliefs, background, religion, gender, gender orientation, age or appearance.
However, there are those who, for whatever reason, persist in spreading hate material, which can have a spectrum of consequences ranging from victims feeling embarrassed, violated or isolated – to damaging community cohesion and creating fear.
What to do about online hate material
If you come across or are sent hateful or violent content online, it may not be illegal, but you can still take steps to have it removed if it offends, frightens or upsets you.
Report it to the website administrator
Most websites do not knowingly permit comments, photos and videos that offend or hurt others and their rules are set out in their acceptable use policies. Popular websites – including social media, video hosting and news sites feature methods of reporting or complaining about such material. This may be via a ‘report this page’ or ‘report this user’ button, or simply via their contact form.
Information and advice from some of the most popular sites – including what constitutes violations of acceptable use, reporting issues and blocking – can be found here:
Report it to the hosting company
If the website itself is hateful in nature or supports hate speech or violence, you can report it to the site’s hosting company. Many hosting companies have rules about the type of sites and content that they are prepared to host. You can check a website’s hosting company by entering their web address on the website ‘Who is hosting this?’ .
You could also contact your own internet supplier and ask for more information.
Report it to the police
If the website you have seen online matches the description of illegal content above and you think it originates in this country, you should report it to the police.