Online hatred in the EU

Woman curled up in front of a smartphone emitting social media communications, image by Golden Sikorka/Getty Images

Image by Golden Sikorka/Getty Images

Researchers sought to understand the characteristics of online hatred and considered the challenges associated with online content moderation.

What was the issue?

There is no commonly accepted definition of ‘online hatred’, and no official statistics are available to offer a global overview of the extent of this phenomenon. However, evidence of relevance to this area suggests online hatred is on the rise. There has been an increase in use of major social media platforms and alternative channels, providing online hatred with an environment to thrive. Work to address the challenges of online hatred includes content moderation approaches by online platforms and approaches to regulating this. However, skepticism has been raised about content moderation potentially limiting freedom of expression.

In light of these challenges, there was a need for better understanding of the nature and extent of online hatred.

How did we help?

RAND Europe led a partnership commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) to conduct a study to better understand the extent and nature of online hatred. The focus was on four selected target groups, in four EU Member States, namely Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Sweden. The target groups of focus were women and people of African descent (for all four selected countries), Jewish people (for Germany and Sweden), and Roma people (for Bulgaria and Italy).

Specifically, the study improved understanding of online hatred by collecting and analysing material coming into the study definition of ‘online hatred’. This followed an initial background research, including detailed desk review and interviews in each of the four countries.

The online posts and comments were collected from X (then known as Twitter), YouTube, Reddit and Telegram using a variety of methods, including web aggregators and public APIs. We then analysed the posts both qualitatively (hand coding using a bespoke coding grid) and quantitively (using lexical analysis techniques). This analysis focused on understanding the different characteristics of online hatred and the challenges associated with online content moderation.

Our results and findings have improved understanding of the phenomenon of online hatred in the EU, and how policymakers might approach the challenges presented by it. The study is now concluded, and FRA’s report is available.

Our partners on the study were Oxford Brookes University, Spark Legal Network, and the Center for the Study of Democracy.