For years now, the Internet discussions in the Czech Republic have known few bounds. Site administrators try to keep up with all the offensive posts, but often can’t react fast enough to take down all the vulgar and racist stuff that people throw up there. Of course, this is a worldwide phenomenon and has proven just how “brave” people can be when they can act anonymously. Now, both the law and a change in policy are combining to hopefully start to limit the flow of bile, at least here in the Czech Republic.

Earlier this month, for possible the first time, a contributor to an Internet discussion was punished in court for his online behavior. Martin Kubak received a four-month suspended sentence for his actions after he became apparently upset that the administrator for the discussions at idnes.cz, the site of the Czech Republic’s biggest serious daily, had deleted his user account – the result of consistently inappropriate behavior. For about half a year, Kubak then sent Patrik Banga, the administrator, insulting and racist messages, threatening him with death. Banga, who is Romani, is also a prominent commentator on Roma-related issues.

In an earlier interview on Romeo.cz, Banga explained the kind of abuse he had received from Kubak:

“He’s been writing me e-mails for a long time in which he curses me in racist, vulgar language, calling me a ‘black pig’ and many worse things. Those of us on the editorial staff have let it slide this whole time. I didn’t personally get upset about it until he sent the first of a series of e-mails in which he began threatening to kill my family: ‘What if I disposed of you and your brat (if it is yours), you fucking bloated cripple.’ When he began threatening to murder my children that crossed the line of the usual discussions between administrators and contributors, which can be resentful at times,” Banga says.

The sentencing will hopefully scare what Banga has called a small, otherwise negligible number of overall contributors, into modifying their behavior. They may be small, compared with the total number of contributors, which Banga has estimated at around 50,000, but they are prolific. I read elsewhere that Banga thought he erased around 8,200 comments a week.

“Finally, someone realizes that the discussions are not so anonymous and that not everybody can afford to do anything,” Banga said in reaction to the verdict. “There must be some rules.” While his lawyer said it was the first time a Czech court had decided in this way, a spokesman for the criminal police remembered another case, in which an individual followed up threats on the Internet by seeking out and attacking the victim.

Alongside its article on the case, the daily Lidove noviny said such online behavior had prompted it to end anonymity in discussions. Anyone who wants to discuss the articles on Lidovky.cz must disclose their real name and address.

Here’s hoping that other sites follow suit, realizing that civil discussions are more important to their brand than increasing their website traffic by opening up their pages to any idiot with an opinion.

Photo above from Banga’s blog at idnes.cz.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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