The Malta Independent 21 March 2023, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: Are fines for hate speech on social media enough?

Thursday, 26 January 2023, 09:21 Last update: about 3 months ago

A man was recently fined €300 after he was found guilty of hate speech against NGO Repubblika President Robert Aquilina.

It is the latest of judgments given by the Maltese courts on cases regarding comments that are posted on the social media. It happens to be one of the lowest fines that were handed out in the past years.

Other people were fined between €500 and €2,000, presumably depending on the content of the words they used, while a few were also handed a suspended sentence. Many of the people charged admitted to their offence, which meant that the fine that was imposed by the courts was lower than the one they would have had to pay had they chosen to plead not guilty and undergo court proceedings.


The social media is providing a platform for such people to spout their venom against others. Any post anyone uploads is subject to people commenting beneath it, and it is unfortunate that there are many instances where both the initial post and the comments underneath amount to hate speech. Sometimes even positive stories generate a flow of undesirable and hurtful comments.

In an interview carried in The Malta Independent on Sunday, Raisa Falzon, a woman who spent nine months in a coma, recounted how people wish her and her family ill for no apparent reason at all. Many of those posting distasteful comments when she speaks about her turmoil do not even know her. They simply cannot stop themselves from writing poisonous words for everyone to see.

Not everyone takes the trouble to report hate speech written against them on the social media, so the cases that are taken before the courts are a small fraction to all that goes on. Most of the hate speech comments are related to politics, but we have seen many on other social issues, including religion, sport and village rivalries.

Whether fines are enough to act as a deterrent – especially if they are as low as €300 – is questionable. A suspended sentence is already better although such a measure, as said previously, is seldom applied by the courts.

Offenders should, across the board, be given harsher penalties for their crimes. Fines should be higher, suspended sentences should be given more frequently, and perpetrators should be given hours to work in the community.

Everyone should be made to realise that they should think well before posting anything on the social media, rather than write down what comes to mind immediately. It’s one thing saying something between friends, and a completely different matter when what one writes is accessible to one and all.

Most of all, we should all refrain from passing unkind and inciteful comments.

Those who do not should be made to pay the consequences.

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