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MORE THAN JUST WORDS

When online hate speech turns into murder - the „Bierwirt“ case

and its legal aftereffects

By Katja Magdalena Müller

The Case

29th of April 2021, Maria M., 35 years old, nurse and mother of two gets murdered in her apartment in Vienna. Maria is the 9th murdered woman in Austria this year, till today the number increased to 27. The crime suspect, her ex-partner, is not unknown to the public: The so-called „Bierwirt“ got media attention much earlier due to his lawsuit against the Green Party politician Sigrid Maurer. In 2018 Maurer made online hate comments she had received open to the public. Thereupon the suspect started suing Maurer for defamation, claiming someone else must have sent the comments from his account. In an over two year lasting period the trial went from the reversal of perpetrator and victim till the lawsuit withdrawal. However the conflict had a much bigger impact on how Austria deals with hate online and pushed a new legislative package against online hate speech.

The „Bierwirt“ case is only one example of numerous crimes against women happening everyday and anyways this case links misogynistic online hate speech to offline violence against women like no other case. It shows the difficulties of addressing online perpetrators and how this legal vacuum sets the basis for hate crime. It’s important to underline that offline and online violence are not two separate experiences of violence, they are mutually dependent and must equally be addressed. Yet the two phenomenons are perceived separately, in law enforcement as well as public discourse.

„It is fallacy to assume that online perpetrators are not also physically active“ (cyber criminologist Gabriel-Rüdiger T., die Presse, 2021)



Faced problems


One reason why many victims don’t search for support is that there is little awareness of the corresponding support offers (Forschungszentrum Menschenrechte & Weisser Ring, 2019). Apart from that misogynistic hate speech is often seen as a harmless issue that women have to bear with However, misogynistic hate speech has severe psychological, emotional and physical impacts.

“The aim of sexist hate speech is to humiliate or objectify women, to undervalue their skills and opinions, to destroy their reputation, to make them feel vulnerable and fearful, and to control and punish them for not following a certain behaviour.“ (European Council, 2016)


In effect misogynistic hate speech silences women and threatens their freedom of speech. This silencing threatens democracy heavily by forcing women and girls out of the public discourse and giving space to haters. Especially public active women are targets of attack, like politicians, journalists, artists or women in any other visible position. A study of the Momentum Institut showed that three quarters of the interviewed female Austrian politicians have already been affected by misogynist and sexist hatred, especially online

(Ingrid Brodnig & Momentum-Institut, 2021).


The new legal situation


The ongoing discussion following the trial of Sigrid Maurer and the suspected online hater pushed the Austrian government to release a new legislative package to tackle online hate speech. The package contains a bill that creates new obligations for online platforms to remove illegal user-generated content besides a comprehensive justice reform. Since April 1, 2021, online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter must offer easier ways to delete illegal content. For example, if posts clearly contain agitation, defamation, dangerous threats, or represent bullying, the platform operator must remove the content within 24 hours. Apart from that new court proceedings also ensure that victims can sue their haters faster and without facing the huge cost risk of a private lawsuit. Haters receive an injunction within a few days, whereby the hate poster has to pay the court fee of 108€. With this procedure Green Party politician Sigrid Maurer would have received justice quickly.


The new proceedings set more legal security and protection in the internet, but this is just one step in the right direction. Facebook and two other IT-companies already submitted a complaint to the Federal Administrative Court claiming the new measures violate EU laws. Therefore we need cross-border solutions. The European Commission is currently working on a new „Digital Services Act'' to force tech companies to tackle illegal content, be more transparent about their algorithms and the way they moderate content. The DSA is a chance to push EU-wide protection of women and girls on the Internet and secure their voice in the democratic discourse. However the current draft proposal barely takes victims of hate speech into account. That is why HateAid, next to six other initiatives, is calling on the European Commission to publish gender-specific rules embedded in the „Digital Service Act“ by December this year . In their International petition „Stop digital violence against women! #makeitsafe“ they made the following demands (Hateaid, 2021).



Conclusion


The Causa „Bierwirt '' first angered and then shocked the public. It showed that online hate speech is more than just words and it made obvious how poorly equipped women are by law enforcement in fighting online perpetrators. In a Podcast I will go deeper into the Causa „Bierwirt“ – a case in which the system failed tragically in protecting women online and offline and that finally pushed new hate speech regulations in Austria. I will talk with experts and advocates about the reasons for hate speech and the severe effects it has on the individual and society as a whole. Moreover we will discuss the help women can tend to and which regulations are needed to fully guarantee a safe internet. Now is the time to fill the gap that the internet left open for misogynic hate.

„Every murdered woman is one too many. Every hurt woman is one too many.“

(Sigrid Maurer on her twitter account following the news of Maria M.’s murder on the 30th of April 2021)

Where to find support in cases of Online Hate Speech?


Advice center #GegenHassimNetz: Advice on all forms of violence on the internet

BanHate: App against hate postings and hate crimes. Free available app for anonymous reporting of hate posting or hate crimes via smartphone.

MonA-Net: Advice on cyberbullying and online network for girls and young woman.

Women’s helpline against all forms of violence: 0800 222 555, free, anonymous initial and crisis counselling by telephone.


References


Brodnig, I. & Momentum-Institut (27.06.2021). Politikerinnen oft von Hassnachrichten betroffen. https://www.momentum-institut.at/news/politikerinnen-oft-vonhassnachricht

en-betroffen


Council of Europe. (2016). Combating Sexist Hate Speech. https://rm.coe.int/1680651592


Economist Intelligence Unit (2021). Measuring the prevalence of online violence against women.https://onlineviolencewomen.eiu.com/


European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. (2014). Violence against women :an EU wide survey: Main results. Publications Office. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2811/62230


Forschungszentrum Menschenrechte & Weisser Ring (Oktober, 2019). Gewalt im Netz gegen Frauen & Mädchen in Österreich. https://www.weisser-ring.at/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Studie_Bestandsaufnahme_Gewalt_im_Netz_gegen_Frauen_und_M%C3%A4dchen_in_%C3%96sterreich.pdf


Gabriel-Rüdiger, T. (28.06.2021). Hassnachrichten und Sexismus gegen Österreichs Parlamentarierinnen weit verbreitet. Die Presse. https://www.diepresse.com/6000543/

hassnachrichten-und-sexismus-gegen-osterreichs-parlamentarierinnen-weit-verbreitet


HateAid (10.10.2021). Stop violence against women online! HateAid calls on the EU to act. Join us! https://hateaid.org/dsa/

Maurer, S. [Sigi Maurer]. (30.04.2021). Jede getötete Frau ist eine zu viel. Jede verletzte Frau ist eine zu viel. Twitter. https://twitter.com/sigi_maurer/status/1388094042202849281



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