Swedish lawyers track and charge net trolls
Published: 29 Apr 2014 13:23 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Apr 2014 13:23 GMT+02:00
Stockholm University civil law professor Mårten Schultz quite accidentally sums up his latest venture brashly on his Twitter account.
Translation: You could pay, literally, for what you say online. .
"When people use freedom of speech to hurt other people, they have a responsibility," Schultz told The Local about the new volunteer Law and Internet Institute (Institutet för Juridik & Internet - IJI), which takes aim specifically at slander, violations, and threats made online.
Some internet users have not relented, but their victims are now fighting back. As Swedish media personality Robert Aschberg hunts down online haters on the new television programme Troll Hunters (Trolljägarna), Schultz and his partners are using Sweden's civil law code to hit up the tormentors for cash.
They're sending the bullies damage claims on behalf of people in Sweden who have been targeted by offensive and threatening statements.
But where does the online hatred come from?
"If I scream 'Whore!' in your face, I realize it might come back to bite me in the rear, but psychologists talk about dehumanizing the person on the other side of the cable, you don't see the person," Schultz says.
Last year, net haters bombarded a young Swedish woman with comments after she complained about a Tupac Shakur T-shirt on sale at H&M.
"How do you think the woman who was raped feels when she sees his face in your stores, on your clothes," Julia wrote on the Swedish clothing giant's Facebook page. Shakur was accused of rape in the early 1990s. He was convicted of sexual abuse in 1993.
The avalanche of abuse that followed shocked Julia. She was called disgusting and encouraged to commit suicide. Another wrote that they hoped Julia would be raped.
"Internet can stoke a mob mentality," Schultz says in reference to Julia's treatment online. "You unite against a common enemy and egg each other one. It's a rabble."
Julia reported her online abusers to the police, who soon closed down the investigation. They said that it was difficult to investigate because H&M had erased the worst of the comments from its page by the time the local police officers looked into the case.
Schultz and his partners decided they would help Julia instead. They managed to find the name and addresses of several commenters. Citing civil rather than criminal law, the team simply sent five online bullies a 5,000-kronor ($765) damages claim for violating Julia's person (kränkningsersättning) and/or aggravated harassment (allvarligt ofredande).
One person has transferred the money.
"And all honour to him," Schultz said. "It wasn't honourable to write what he wrote, but it is honourable to confess to what he did, to take responsibility, and to pay up."