Mapping Out the National Context of Online Hate Speech in Bulgaria
This study published by the Coalition of Positive Messengers to Counter Online Hate Speech provides an up-to-date picture of the spread and prevention of (online) hate speech against refugees and migrants. It focuses on Bulgarian regulatory frameworks to identify, mitigate and counteract hate speech, on monitoring and reporting mechanisms, as well as on legal and non-legal measures to counter hate speech.
Main conclusions and findings are:
- Bulgarians' public attitudes towards refugees are mainly influenced and shaped by the media. A large part of the population perceives refugees as a threat to national security and a potential economic burden. They fear foreign religions, ethnicities and cultures.
- The literature review confirms that between 2014 and 2016, there has been a gradual increase of hate speech in the media, primarily those associated with nationalist parties and tabloids (both print and online). The negative public perception is also fueled by the public rhetoric of politicians, nationalists and far-right activists. Refugees (particularly Muslim refugees) and the Roma minority are the main targets.
- The main channels for the dissemination of hate speech are social networks (Facebook, Vbox), comments in online forums and media, tabloids and nationalistic online platforms. The hostile rhetoric is then (re)produced by the official media (mostly large television companies). In fact, refugees were one of the main topics of the president and parliament election campaigns of 2016 in Bulgaria.
- Despite the increasing number of instances of online hate speech, the only sanctions perpetrators are subject to are restrictions by online platforms themselves. The national reporting process is ineffective, as is the subsequent investigation and prosecution of cases. There has been no convictions so far.
- Rather than investing efforts and time in counteracting online hate speech, the media, politicians and public officials support such views and contribute to its acceptance and normalisation in public discourse.
The study also presents an overview of civil society initiatives aimed at raising public awareness through trainings and various campaigns and projects. The Coalition of Positive Messengers to Counter Online Hate Speech has produced similar reports on other EU countries, as well as a European comparative analysis.