Online hate is louder than reason: 13% experienced abuse 'very often'

A Eurobarometer survey finds Maltese respondents experience so much online abuse against the media that they do not participate in social media debate

At least half of the Maltese nation is not following debates on current affairs or national issues on the social media, according to a survey of over 500 respondents carried out for an Europe-wide survey on the media.

The Eurobarometer survey on media pluralism and democracy found that 52% of Maltese followed debates on social media like Facebook (‘very often’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘rarely’), while the highest rate was found in Denmark, Sweden and Finland (over 75%), and the lowest in Romania (39%).

At least 11% of Maltese respondents follow social media debates “very often” but only 2% said they participate in these debates.

In fact, the Maltese were the nation most likely, bar Estonia, to shun participation in social media debate: 2% said they did “very often”, 7% “sometimes” and 10% “rarely”.

But of note was the rate of non-participation: 76% of Maltese said they don’t participate in the debate, a sign of the lack of critical engagement and an indication that abusive posts on social media sites like Facebook often go unchecked.

Indeed, on average, three-quarters of EU respondents who participate in social media debates said they had experienced abuse, hate speech or threats directed at journalists, bloggers or people active on social media. Just over one in ten (14%) say they have experienced this very often, while 40% have experienced it sometimes. Just over one in five (21%) say they have rarely experienced this kind of abuse.

In Malta this was almost the precise experience: 13% said they had seen abuse “very often”, 59% “sometimes” and 12% “rarely”.

In 27 countries, the majority of respondents said they had experienced cases of abuse, hate speech or threats directed at journalists, especially in Denmark (92%), Sweden and the Netherlands (both 90%) are the most likely to say this.

Indeed these respondents were more likely to hesitate to engage in such debates. In 12 countries, the majority of respondents agree such cases make them hesitate to engage in such debates. Nearly six in ten in Estonia, Malta (both 59%), Ireland and Luxembourg (both 57%) say such cases make them hesitate to engage in such debates. In fact, more than one quarter of respondents in Estonia (30%) and Malta (29%) definitely agree.

At the other end of the scale, respondents in Slovenia, Greece (both 34%), Portugal and Lithuania (both 35%) are the least likely to share this opinion.

“These results highlight that, in the eyes of Europeans, there is still considerable work to be done in ensuring the independence of national media – a vital cornerstone of a democratic EU,” the Eurobarometer conclusions stated.

“The widespread experience of hate speech, abuse and threats in online spaces also needs to be addressed to ensure all citizens feel free to safely express themselves in the online sphere.”