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Bart Schermer: ‘Threats via internet also liable to punishment’

Austria wants to crack down on online threats and hatred. The reason is the death of GP Lisa-Maria Kellermayr. She committed suicide at the end of July after being threatened for months by people opposed to Covid measures and vaccinations.

Bart Schermer

In the Netherlands, too, the online spread of hate and threats is currently a problem. Platforms can easily take measures themselves, such as automatically giving feedback to a hate message, but the government can certainly play a role in this as well. ‘Just like threatening someone physically, threats via internet are also punishable', says Bart Schermer, Professor of Law and Digital Technology, on Dutch news site RTL Nieuws. ‘The police mainly carry out an investigation when a crime has been reported, but they also monitor social media.’

A bill on doxing (publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organisation) – was recently sent to the Dutch House of Representatives. ‘People who post someone's private information on social media may then be liable to prosecution. For example, if you share someone's address and that person is harmed, you will not be prosecuted for the violent offence, but you will be prosecuted for sharing the data.’

At the European level, there is the Digital Services Act. This Act holds providers of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter liable if they do not take threatening posts offline. Schermer: 'If the public prosecutor indicates that a post must be taken offline and the platform does nothing, then the platform is even liable under criminal law.'

The problem lies in the capacity of the police. There is not enough manpower to detect online hate. Schermer: 'That's why it can help if companies do more, possibly thus stimulated by the fact that platforms can be held liable'.

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