Online Hate Speech: User Perception and Experience Between Law and Ethics




freedom of expression, incitement to hatred, criminal law, user perception, online survey


‘Governance’ of online hate speech (OHS) has become a buzzword in social media research and practice. Inputs from a plethora of stakeholders, international organisations, platforms, governments, and NGOs are discussed by academics, (social) media executives and lawmakers around the globe. In these discussions, the opinions of users remain underexplored, and data on their experiences and perceptions is scarce. The present paper focuses on five case studies of model OHS postings in the context of the Austrian OHS governance system. For these case studies, 157 respondents assessed in an online survey whether a posting should be deleted according to their own ethical standards, whether they believed that this posting was currently punishable under Austrian criminal law, and whether it should be punishable. Furthermore, respondents indicated how they deal with OHS in their daily lives when confronted with it on digital platforms. Using social sciences, human rights, and criminal law approaches, we found that OHS-awareness among our respondent group was high and that there is a preference for state regulation, i.e., punishability under national criminal law, and for the deletion of OHS postings. Simultaneously, readiness for counter-speech and reporting of postings for deletion remains relatively low. Thus, OHS postings are hardly ever answered directly or forwarded to specialised organisations and/or the police. If OHS postings are reported, it is mostly done via the channels of the respective platform.