What to do if a blogger offended you on the Internet? If you are humiliated and bullied in social networks? If you are not allowed to express your opinion? If denied access to any information? And many more similar questions arise daily among many users in the era of the World Wide Web. Virtual reality has created a large number of new problems, including in the field of human rights protection. How to respond to them? Adapt legislation to new emerging circumstances, create fundamentally new laws, or leave everything as it is? Like, everything works itself out.
A discussion on this situation was held at the site of the International Police Association (hereinafter referred to as IPA) as part of the 4th meeting of the International Police Club at the Human Rights in the Digital Age conference.
The president of the Russian section of the IPA, Yuri Zhdanov, believes that it is necessary, at a minimum, to adapt existing laws to the emerging realities, and, ideally, to form and approve new acts that are fully consistent with the changed reality.
Yuri Zhdanov gave an example in which Germany made changes to criminal law. In this connection, the term “digital hatred” appeared. This is when a whole storm of hatred is brought down on a user on the Internet, and for any reason. The network may hate for your political or sexual preferences, family relationships, physical advantages or disadvantages, nationality, religious beliefs.
So, in Germany, until recently, paragraph 185, introduced back in the days of the Second Reich, in 1872, remained unchanged in the criminal code. He prescribed penalties for public insults. Penalties were relatively low – a fine and one to two years in prison. At the same time, it must be remembered that at that time it was possible to publicly insult morally or physically in the presence of a relatively small group of people – on the street in front of passers-by, in a corporate meeting or at a meeting of some administrative body, in a theater or in a restaurant. In any case, a maximum of two hundred people could watch such a performance. At the moment, the situation has changed, and the audience of two hundred people has grown into millions.
What is worth paying attention to is that digital hatred is increasingly affecting politicians and heads of various states. In a poll of women MPs in the Bundestag, 11% said that insults and threats made them question their political activities and think about leaving. And 10% of local politicians surveyed said they should seriously consider resigning and giving up their mandate due to digital violence against themselves. As a result, the Germans saw in digital hatred not just an insult to personal dignity, but also an attack on freedom of speech and democracy itself.
What is extremely dangerous, Internet bullying often becomes a massive incitement to commit crimes and even suicide.
In April 2021, Germany developed and published a law on combating extremism and hate crimes. This is the first step towards the modern design of the criminal law, when the qualification for public insults is added on the Internet. True, the main reason for the tightening is still not the need for better protection of honor, but the danger for a free exchange of opinions. But the paradox lies in the following, according to the head of the Digital Development Department and Secretary of the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence of the Council of Europe (CAHAI) Christian Bartholin, who participated in the discussion of the issue, it is not necessary to create a new legislative system for the protection of human rights. He stressed that it is necessary to use the existing one, taking into account digital features.
Let’s look at the situation in Russia, liability for libel is established by the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in article 128.1. For insult, that is, humiliation of honor and dignity, including in the Mass Media (hereinafter referred to as the media), liability is provided for by Article 5.61 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation. Basically, these are fines of different sizes. The maximum fine for an individual is 5,000 rubles, for an official – 100,000 rubles, for a legal entity – 500,000 rubles. There is nothing specific about the Internet. Apparently, it is included in the general concept of the media.
According to Tatyana Moskalkova, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, the problem in Russia is urgently overdue. She notes that the digital reception in the human rights office can hardly cope with the wave of calls. One of the many problems voiced by Moskalkova during the discussion of the issue concerns precisely insults and humiliation in the digital space. This is the so-called cyberbullying – online aggression. Often the victims of such harassment are young people – schoolchildren and students. They are the most susceptible and vulnerable targets for attacks.
According to research, 58% of Russian Internet users have experienced digital bullying. Of these, every fourth was the target of such behavior, and only 4% of respondents admit that they themselves were the initiators of bullying. Tatyana Moskalkova also noted that it is especially dangerous that cyberbullying often becomes a massive incitement to commit crimes and even suicide. Moreover, there are cases when threats on the Internet become a real physical reality, victims of bullying are hunted down and lie in wait on the street.