In the UK, we enjoy freedom of expression, which 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. In England and Wales, it can be an offence to incite 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 in the UK – 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.
A large amount of material that can be viewed online is outside the jurisdiction of our courts, as offences are committed only in cases where it is posted or controlled in this country. For example, the US does not have an offence of inciting racial hatred, but if someone in the UK posts on a foreign site, this could represent a crime here.
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 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 website?’ .
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 the UK, you should report it to the police. You can do that from here: http://www.report-it.org.uk/your_police_force
This is not a 24-hour emergency service. If there is any immediate risk then please dial 999 to tell the police of any danger.
If the location of the crime (where the material was posted) is not known, it is the responsibility of the police force where you live to make enquiries.
Stop Hate UK: www.stophate.uk.org
If you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information. Victim Support also has further advice and information on hate crime, here: www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/hate-crime