Shrinking or expanding access to civic space? The consequences of hate speech, threats and harassment within Swedish civil society

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has focused on how governments and public authorities can limit civil society organisations’ (CSOs) autonomy by shrinking their operational civic space and their democratic functions. There has been less attention paid to how other external actors and types of pressure might restrict access to civic space and how it can induce coping responses on both an individual and organizational level. This article draws on an interview study with representatives, employees and volunteers in Swedish CSOs and focuses on their strategies on coping with hate speech, threats and harassment or the perceived risk thereof and explores if and how the fear of being subjected to hate speech, threats and harassment restricts civil society actors in their autonomy and affects their democratic functions. Results show that there is a tendency towards withdrawal from public debates by making themselves more anonymous and less accessible, by depoliticizing contentious issues and by disrupting the chain of representation. These coping responses are problematic, as they limit civil society’s ability to act as an independent and critical voice, but the personal costs for being visible in the public sphere are often considered too high.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Civil Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023 Sept 13

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work

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