Whilst the rise of the Internet and social networking websites has, in many ways, presented many positives for society, particularly in terms of freedom of speech and communication, it has also created a platform on which abusive and threatening opinions can be more easily voiced, in particular against certain individuals or groups of people, which is often referred to as hate speech.
Despite hate speech being restricted to the act of verbal abuse, some experts are worried by its tendency to develop into something more serious, falling under the bracket of hate crime.
A hate crime is a criminal offense motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a victim's race, ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation or disability.
This kind of crime may include robberies, threats, harassment, intimidation or actual acts of physical violence such as physical assault, sexual assault, rape, torture, attempted murder or murder.
Hate crimes are unique as they have a social undertone in their aim. They are intent on sending a message to entire groups or individuals, as well as to their families and other supporters, that they are unwelcome in particular communities. What sets hate crimes apart from other acts of violence is the psychological damage that they leave behind.
Although any type of victimization carries with it psychological consequences, certain types of emotional reactions are more frequent among survivors of hate crimes. These feelings include depression, anxiety, fear, stress and anger.
The Internet and social media networks are not under any sort of inspection against racist ideas, hate or abusive speech in the name of freedom of surfing the Web.
The news that features on media outlets are getting onto social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where hate speeches are added and uploaded.
Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was fatally shot in front of the headquarters of the bilingual Armenian weekly Agos in 2007, was one of the biggest victims of hate crime in Turkey as he was killed only because of his "Armenian" identity.
Forty-eight Roma from 13 families were forced to leave Selendi in Manisa, where they had lived for many years, after clashes erupted between the district's Roma population and other locals. These two examples show how serious these hate crimes can be.
An organization named the Association for Social Change (ASC) is currently the only association that solely deals with every aspect of hate crime. Their slogan is "Hate Crimes Kill."
In an interview with Cihan new agency, ASC's secretary-general, Fikret Levent Şensever, stated that there are various organizations that are working against hate crimes, such as the International Hrant Dink Foundation.
Şensever said that hate speech on online community and social networking websites strongly influences hate crimes. "We have to differentiate hate crime and hate speech first.
Hate crimes are physical crimes against individuals or groups of people, based on many aspects, such as ethnic origin, religious belief and so on. Hate speech is normally only in the form of verbal attacks; however, they can sometimes lead to hate crimes, too."
Currently there is no legislation about hate crimes in the Turkish Constitution. Though there are some articles in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), as they do not directly cover hate crime or hate speech, criminal cases on such issues are not solved as they are in European countries and criminals generally get away with what they have done.
Hate speech does not only declare one's hate or anger, but also sets a premise for hate crime. Şensever stated that the Turkish government should take immediate action in creating legislation on hate crime and inform and train judicators, attorneys, police officers and civil societies.
Şensever told Cihan news agency, the government in the United Kingdom trains media personnel on discrimination issues to prevent any sort of racism or hate crimes, and they also provide booklets and newsletters concerning hate crime.
Şensever said the ASC was founded on Feb. 26, 2009 by activists in order to carry out various campaigns on social, cultural and environmental issues, and to support such efforts through projects and campaigns. He also mentioned that there were not many organizations that are dealing with hate crime in Turkey.
"In Western countries, especially in the United States, the government produces reports on hate crime every year. However, this is not the case in our country. So far there have been no reports on hate crimes in Turkey, so we do not know which segments of society are victims of hate speech," he said.
Cihan news agency