Men’s online forum sparks complaints

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While Norway officially mourned the victims this weekend of an ultra right-wing terrorist’s attacks on July 22, 2011, members of the controversial men’s online forum Mannegruppa Ottar were making fun of them. Their so-called “jokes” about the massacre on the island of Utøya six years ago have so alarmed the leader of the national support group for July 22 survivors that she has reported them to police.

While Lisbeth Røyneland (far right) paid tribute on Saturday to victims of the July 22 massacre on Utøya, including her own daughter, members of the men-only online forum Mannegruppa Ottar were making fun of them. Joining Røyneland were Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre. At far left, Mani Hussaini, leader of the Labour Party’s youth group AUF, which was the main target of the Norwegian white supremacist who killed 77 people on July 22, 2011. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

“We have endured similar situations earlier, for example when a grown Norwegian man referred to Utøya as a ‘hunting ground,'” Lisbeth Røyneland, whose daughter was killed by the Norwegian white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. Now, Røyneland said, the group has gone too far.

NRK was sent screen grabs from the closed Facebook group that bills itself as only for men and a forum where they’re free to spread “politically incorrect humour” they otherwise wouldn’t dare publish openly. NRK reported that the group, which has caused offense earlier for its hateful and sexist content, currently has more than 53,000 members.

On Sunday, the day after Røyneland had taken part in memorial ceremonies for the July 22 victims, she was made aware of how Mannegruppa Ottar members were sharing photos of Breivik, Utøya, machine guns and text that tried to make fun of all the murders. Breivik shot and killed 69 people on Utøya and wounded scores more during his murderous rampage at the Labour Party’s youth summer camp. He also killed eight and injured more when he set off a bomb at the Labour-led government complex in downtown Oslo at the time, before driving towards Utøya and posing as a police officer to gain access to the island.

Fears of more right-wing extremism
The July 22 attacks were the worst since World War II. When Røyneland was made aware of how they were being belittled and joked about by anonymous Norwegian men on the Facebook page, she saw no choice but to call Norway’s state police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste).

“You never know, extremism can begin in small ways,” Røyneland told NRK. “I get really scared, and angered, when I see something like this.”

PST confirmed that it had been alerted to the content on Mannegruppa Ottar’s online forum. PST officials determined, however, that the offensive content was not directly threatening and that no punitive action would be taken, at least for now.

Saturday’s memorial ceremony on Utøya followed a ceremony earlier in the day at the site of the right-wing, anti-Muslim terrorist’s bombing of Norway’s government complex in downtown Oslo. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Røyneland had a message of her own to the members of Mannegruppa Ottar, who joked at the expense of her and thousands of others who lost loved ones six years go: “When you publish things on the Internet, you maybe think that you only have a screen in front of you. But other people will read it. As the mother of a victim of the July 22 attacks, this feels extremely offensive. If you’re only looking for attention, there are other good ways of attracting it.”

Mani Hussaini, leader of the Labour Party’s youth group AUF that was the main target of the July 22 attacks, said he thinks those running the Mannegruppa Ottar forum should delete the highly offensive content and ban the members who created it. “It just makes me so sad, and angry,” Hussaini told NRK. “It’s disgusting what’s been published, and unbelievably disrespectful towards those who lost loved ones or survived the attacks themselves.”

“Many, many people are still in deep sorrow after the attacks,” Hussaini continued. “It’s reprehensible that grown men would think this is funny.” He also found their comments “frightening.”

A ‘problem … we can’t do anything about’
Kay Erikssen, administrator of Mannegruppa Ottar’s closed forum on Facebook, said he wasn’t surprised by the complaints. “This is a problem we have every year, especially around July 22,” Erikssen told NRK. “It doesn’t only come up for us, but on the Internet in general.”

Erikssen stressed that he personally did not find the comments about Utøya amusing, but he won’t delete them or ban those who wrote them. “We follow Norwegian law, and as long as the comments don’t break the law, we can’t do anything about them,” he told NRK.

“I think the vast majority in Norway agree that it’s not socially acceptable to joke about Utøya, to be honest, but with the rules we have for the group now, we won’t do anything.” He claimed the men-only group was more concerned with preserving freedom of expression, but he said he would urge all members to “think twice” before publishing offensive jokes on Facebook.

It’s not the first time Mannegruppa Ottar, viewed as an outlet for men in Norway who apparently feel threatened by the country’s social policies, has sparked controversy and caused offense. Content published earlier has been highly critical and derogatory towards women, especially young women. NRK reported that it also has been used to spread racist jokes and pornography in acts of revenge, despite rules against pornography.

Erikssen claims the group has a bad reputation that it doesn’t deserve. “There’s no goal for the group to be controversial,” he told NRK, adding that “99.9 percent of our content is completely OK. It’s only the remaining 0.1 percent that makes its way into the media, especially in the summertime when there’s not much else to write about.”

NRK reported that it contacted one of the men who shared the offensive jokes about the massacre on Utøya, but he wouldn’t agree to an interview.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • inquisitor

    Sometimes the exercise of lawful and legal free speech to the extreme bounds of social acceptance and decency is the truest test to know if that free speech actually does exist. Only by stating that which could be deemed as the most offensive or the most objectionable can demonstrate lawful, legal free speech exists as an absolute, or if it is really just a privilege granted to you disguised as an absolute until some arbitrary opinion holder attempts to quash it at their whim of personal opinion.

  • Roy Everson

    Providing a platform for hate speech is the same as promoting the hate speech. To hide behind the vital right of free expression is a cowardly response by the entire group. It deserves a nasty rep because free expression without taking responsibility is just a lame excuse for supporting the dregs of society.