An Austrian politician found himself in hot water over online comments he made earlier this year, leading to his prosecution under the country's laws criminalizing speech deemed as hateful.
But in an attempt to avoid a criminal conviction, which could include jail time, Amstetten City Councilman Bruno Weber has agreed to a court offer that will allow him to instead participate in a six-month counseling program aimed at teaching the official how to behave in online forums.
What are the details?
During a late-night Facebook perusal earlier this year, Weber stumbled upon an advertisement promoting Austrian railroad company OBB's family discount card. Weber posted a comment calling the image of two men holding an infant child "filth," and went on to use slurs to describe the men in the picture, including the German version of the N-word.
Weber told the court that he made the post after drinking several beers, and explained that the advertisement did not portray his own image of what a family is. The city councilor added that he wasn't aware that the N-word was offensive.
Nonetheless, Weber agreed to participate in a new project called "Dialogue Instead of Hatred," an extensive counseling program launched in coordination with Austrian courts in respond to a growing number of citizens violating the nation's restrictions on hate speech.
Charges for incitement of hatred in the country leapt from 25 in 2006 to 827 last year.
According to AFP, one rehabilitation program for such online offenders is conducted through a German-Austrian non-government organization called Neustart, which aims to help perpetrators "understand why their behavior is wrong, and to recognize how they can express their opinions without denigrating others."
Neustart employee Andreas Zembaty told The Washington Post that while such programs are available in several other countries with incitement laws, he believes a similar procedure could work in the U.S.
"We're not a thought-police force," he insisted.
Zembaty touted the progress requirements involved with assuring that offenders prove they are reformed before charges are dropped against them. He said it's better than just sentencing someone under the crime without giving the alternative rehabilitation option, because oftentimes perpetrators otherwise become martyrs for their cause.
"Once they are sentenced, many immediately start behaving like victims," Zembaty explained. "They say: 'I only voiced my opinion and now I'm being punished for that.'"