Bodø, January 2013. It's the middle of the night. Odd-André Lind Nilsen is awoken by the sound of his mobile phone ringing. The voice in the other end is unknown to him. But the message is the same as on earlier nights: "You don't deserve to live." "You're a homo." "Why were you born?"
Odd-André's body feels heavy. He knows that the next morning, his blog will be full of hate mail. Why? Because he has made use of one of humanity's most important freedoms: The freedom to express whatever he wants.
He spent the autumn vacation of 2012 starting up the blog Mr Nilseeen. He was going to move away from his home in Steigen to Bodø for a while, and wanted to use the blog to update his friends.
But Odd-Andrè got increasingly more readers. At the most, he had more than a thousand readers in one day.
At first it gave him a good feeling, a feeling of being popular. But after a while, the negative comments got the upper hand.
Many people did not tolerate the fact that he was a boy blogger. Odd-André was called a homo, he got ugly comments about his looks, his family, and about difficult experiences he had written about in his blog.
But when he revealed that he liked Justin Bieber, the bullying got tougher.
–The hardest thing was to wake up to a lot of negative opinions about me. The feeling that tomorrow I will wake up to a bad day, Odd-André says.
Locks himself in his room
Odd-André sits in his room home in Steigen, a village three hour's drive from Bodø. The walls are decorated with football posters of his favourite team Manchester United. He likes playing football when he's not at school. But the harassment stops him from playing. He can't think of anything else.
– I started staying in my room, because I didn't feel well. I locked myself in, dropped all leisure activities, and did nothing at all, relates Odd-André.
During the night he has to turn on flight mode in order to avoid phone calls. Most callers are boys his own age. He does not report any of the threats to the police.
Odd-André Lind Nilsen
I locked myself in, dropped all leisure activities, and did nothing at all.
– It was scary, but I didn't take it seriously. I didn't think they would do anything, he explains.
Odd-André turns the harassment around
Asker, February 2013. Odd-André has had enough. It's winter vacation, and he's staying with his grandparents in Asker. He has had plenty of time to write his blog, and the negative messages have poured in. At this point, he decides he is not going to take it anymore.
Without a script he makes a video which he puts out on YouTube. Here he talks about the harassment, and states that he's had enough of it:
– I'm not going to break down. No matter how many times you tell me I'm going to die, ask why I like Justin Bieber, why I like being bullied, if I can't quit blogging, and just go and hide. It's just not going to get to me, he says.
The support messages beneath the video are numerous:
"What you're saying here makes me speechless. You are so courageous, continue being yourself," one girl writes. "My God! I'm so touched by this! I recognize the situation," another one writes.
– There may be negative feedback as well, but I don't care about that so much anymore, says Odd-André.
After this, Odd-André changed his blog. It is no longer just a blog about himself. He also puts out stories of other people who have had a hard time. He wants to participate in giving them a voice.
– You get so much back, so much positive feedback from people who want the best for you. I have experienced that myself, says Odd-André.
– What you write will stick to you forever
Freedom of speech is basic in a democratic society. With the Internet and social media, the opportunities to say what you want have exploded. Everyone can make statements about anything at all, at any time. You are your own editor.
Still, this does not mean there are no limits to what you may utter. Your understanding of freedom of speech and the limitations of freedom of speech may actually be the decisive factor in your being employed or not.
– If you bully someone online, you may create a huge problem for yourself, says Hans Marius Tessem.
He is in charge of the web site Slettmeg.no, which helps people who want to delete information about themselves on the Net.
– Anything you write on the Net which can be identified will always stick to you. For instance, if you have made a racist statement, you may have a hard time getting a job, says Tessem.
But what does freedom of speech actually imply?
A harsh penalty
Rewind 200 years, to 1814. Norway has been in union with Denmark for more than 400 years.
For a long time, everything that was to be printed had to be transported from Norway to the Censorship Office in Copenhagen. Gradually, the courts of law were authorized to censor what was printed.
If you criticized the King and the authorities openly, you were in trouble. You could end up in prison, or be expelled from the country.
But in the spring of 1814, everything changed. In the course of six intense weeks, the founding fathers passed Norway's first constitution, in which freedom of the press is established by law, for the first time in Norwegian history.
The same year, Norway was forced into a union with Sweden, but kept its Constitution. This was important for the establishment of a new independent state in 1905. The feeling of freedom was strong at the time, it was a similar feeling as many Norwegians had in 1945, after five years of German occupation.
But did our freedom after the Second World War mean that we were absolutely free? The History Searchers from NRK School talk to philosopher Joakim Hammerlin about the true nature of freedom.
– Freedom of speech is one of our most essential freedoms. The limits to freedom of speech should not be very strict. Basically, everything should be tolerated. But there are a few exceptions, according to philosopher Lars Fr. Svendsen.
In Svendsen's opinion, utterances may be divided into three categories. Most of what we say should be tolerated, both by law and morally. Other statements are legal, but not morally accepted. For instance, it is legal to write a blog entry in which you call your teacher an idiot, but this does not mean that it's an act of decency.
However, some statements are neither legal nor morally acceptable. First and foremost, these are utterances which violate other people's fundamental rights. For instance, threatening other people's lives is illegal.
But in Svendsen's opinion, a lot must be accepted.
– It is acceptable to violate people's religious feelings, even if they may feel hurt, he says.
– The Muhammad cartoons are acceptable
The so-called Muhammad cartoon controversy in 2005 turned this problem into a hot issue. Moslems the world over were in rage when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, drawings which were re-published in other media.
– Such expressions are within the limits in a liberal democracy. I wish the authorities had signalled this more clearly, Svendsen says.
– Is cyberbullying acceptable in comments?
– We have to differentiate between the moral and the judicial. Although there are limits, you can go pretty far in a comment. This does not make it sympathetic. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children what is decent and what is not. But the legal system should not be used to prevent everything which is not to our liking.
– We have to tolerate a lot?
– Yes, quite a lot has to be attended to by civil society, not the legal system. You and I, as citizens, have to speak out. In a liberal democracy, silence gives comment. And in my opinion, we have a moral obligation to declare that this is not all right, says Svendsen.
One of those who decided to speak out was Sandra Borch, former leader of the Centre Youth organization. As a short person, she had experienced bullying ever since upper secondary school. But when she made a name for herself for the Centre Party in national politics, comments flourished.
For a long time, Sandra Borch tried to ignore the cyberbullying. But when she got a letter from a 13-year-old whose life had been ruined by cyberbullying, she confronted the anonymous bullies in her blog. In addition, she talked about her experiences at the Amnesty International seminar "Anonymous Cowards" in Oslo. Today she is happy about having spoken out.
– I guess I was not quite prepared for what I encountered in the world of politics. One year ago, those comments really got me down. But it's a learning process. Today, I'm not as hurt by them, says Sandra Borch.
She thinks social media makes it so much easier to make statements you would never have made face to face with someone. More and more young girls and boys experience cyberbullying, which ruins their everyday life. At the same time, she finds it hard to decide what should be permitted and what should be prohibited. In Borch's opinion, it's unfortunate if the media would cease to allow the comments.
Sandra Borch, former leader of the Centre Youth
We cannot let a handful of people spoil debates on political and social issues.
– We cannot let a handful of people ruin debates on politics and social issues. Those debates have been crucial in shaping and developing our successful democracy, in Borch's opinion.
Cold war and surveillance
But not only freedom of speech is important for democracy to work. We also need openness, or the right to obtain information.
– Openness in a society is important, for the citizens to have an insight into the background for the decisions made by those in power. At the same time, the citizens' private lives should not be as exposed to observation from the authorities' side. It is a matter of privacy protection, says philosopher Lars Fr. Svendsen.
But once in a while, our desire for freedom and openness may lead to the exact opposite effect. This is what happened after the end of the Second World War in 1945. The freedom gained after the war, turned out to be the starting point of the most closed period in modern history, the Cold War. The interaction between the superpowers led to extensive surveillance of citizens both in the NATO countries and the Warsaw Pact countries.
The history searchers from NRK School ask lieutenant colonel Harald Høiback to explain the background of the Cold War:
Surveillance made simple
But the Cold War was by no means the only factor leading to surveillance. Modern technology has radically increased the capacity for surveillance. This was demonstrated by the whistleblower Edward Snowden last year. He revealed that the US National Security Agency NSA has carried out global surveillance, of both common citizens and state leaders.
John Peder Egenæs, General Secretary in the human rights organization Amnesty International, is concerned about this development.
John Peder Egenæs, Amnesty International
In country after country, we observe limitations of freedom of expression and openness.
– In country after country we observe a limitation of freedom of expression and of openness. Nations we had never expected it from, like the US, have substantially stepped up surveillance. To an extent which I think no one had ever dreamed they would, says Egenæs.
In his opinion, freedom of speech is under serious attack.
– States like Russia and China grow increasingly powerful, and they have a totally different view of freedom of speech than we have. They take great liberty in limiting right of access to information on their own execution of power, and they are becoming models for other authoritarian regimes, he says.
In Egenæs' opinion, we need to discuss how much of our private life we are willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe and secure.
– Some people are willing to sell their private life. But others, like me, think we should be skeptical. If we are not on the alert, politicians may go far beyond their mandate when it comes to secret services and surveillance, Egenæs says.
History proves him right. In 1996, the Lund Commission revealed that the Police Surveillance Agency had carried out extensive surveillance during the Cold War, first and foremost of politically active left-wing individuals.
NRK's History Searchers return to the 1970s in order to talk to Professor of Law Dag Wiese Schartum about political surveillance:
Are we monitored?
But can we be sure we are not monitored today? Not everyone is completely sure about this. Last year, the Socialist Left Party proposed the establishment of a new "Lund Commission." The party wanted to find out how much the state and foreign authorities are monitoring Norwegians, according to the daily Aftenposten.
In addition, the party wanted to look into the risks which information from for instance e-mail, mobile data, tax lists, toll gate registers, surveillance cameras, and social media constitute regarding personal protection. New technology also makes us put out a lot of information on the Internet and social media.
Hans Marius Tessem in Slettmeg.no is worried that this makes us easy to monitor.
– I worry that we will see Net engines which may collect so much information that it will be possible to draw up a complete image of a person, Tessem states.
The governments of authoritarian regimes may utilize this information to track down and penalize politically active persons. In democracies like Norway, the information may also be used against us, for instance when we want to purchase a health insurance or seek employment.
Youths more conscious
At the same time, Tessem observes that young people are becoming increasingly conscious about what kind of personal information they share with others.
Hans Marius Tessem, Slettmeg.no
Young people are more conscious about their Net reputation than the older generation. But they are also more ruthless.
– Young people are more conscious about their Net reputation than the older generation. But they are also more ruthless. If someone has been silly enough to share a nude image, many think they just have to take the consequences, Tessem says.
Slettmeg.no dealt with approximately 7,000 requests in 2012, from desperate youths and adults who wanted to delete information on the Net. About half of these requests came from youths under 25 years of age.
– It's a tough climate. Youngsters are often quite disrespectful towards each other, says Tessem.
He thinks many young cyberbullies are not aware of the laws on freedom of speech and personal protection. Many do not realize that what they are doing is illegal. For instance, it is prohibited to share an image without permission from the person in the picture.
– Even when we inform them it's illegal, people do not delete the images. But they do so when we tell them that nude images of persons under the age of 18, per definition, is child porno, Tessem says.
At the same time, youth on the Net have become better at supporting victims of cyberbullying.
Earlier on, many people just vented their spleen, and then nothing happened. Now people have started responding much more often, they say "we don't do this," says Tessem.