Just last year, 33 people faced charges in Court accused of spreading hate speech, mostly on social media platform Facebook.
Malta’s Police Force and the Victim Support Agency have expressed concerns that this type of speech has increased on social media. Not only that, but victims of such derogatory speech often find it difficult to report such cases.
In 2021, police investigated around 48 reports of hate speech, with 33 people from these cases taken to court over the offences. Inspector John Spiteri told TVM News that police noted an increase in such instances, particularly targeted at minority groups.
‘Even though it is important for one to have the right to their opinion, there are ways of expressing such opinions. The moment the opinion ‘goes overboard’ and it becomes a direct attack towards some minority, it gets classified as a crime.’
He also stated that it is almost impossible for police to be aware of every single hate comment which is written on social media. Despite this, police still investigated cases wherein hate speech was found but no report was filed.
The Victim Support Agency’s executive chief, Brian Farrugia, highlighted how victims often find it difficult to report hate speech. ‘Most of the time, it’s because these people don’t know where and how to report it.’
‘An element of fear of retaliation also exists – with victims fearing that the aggressor will do more harm if reported.’
Farrugia said that the groups most prone to hate speech are immigrants, people with different sexual orientations and even persons with disabilities. A person who is found guilty of such offences can receive a maximum 18 month prison sentence and a fine maximum of €23,000.