Maltese people were the most likely of all EU nationals to come across hate speech online, according to a new Eurobarometer survey.
Over half (55 per cent) of Maltese people who took part in the survey agreed that "hate speech" was the illegal content they were most likely to "encounter accidentally" online.
Malta topped the list followed by the Czech Republic (53%), Bulgaria (52%) and Poland (50%). Estonia (15%), Italy (17%) and Lithuania (19%) ranked among the countries where hate speech was least noticed.
According to the Eurobarometer survey carried out in June, Maltese respondents were the third most likely to agree that the country needs to have arrangements in place to limit the spread of illegal content on the Internet.
A definition for "hate speech" was not provided to the 658 respondents, instead allowing them to define the term according to their personal perceptions.
According to Maltese law, hate speech is a threat or insult directed at a member of a recognised minority group.
Activists, NGOs and police have warned about the overwhelming spike in hate speech in Malta in recent years.
European Federation of Journalists general secretary Ricardo Gutierrez, posted a tweet, saying the results showing Malta topping the list were unsurprising.
In an interview with Times of Malta, inspector John Spiteri had sounded warnings that online hate speech was growing at an “alarming rate”. Reports on hate speech towards migrants far outweighed the reports on any other minority group.
And the survey revealed another worrying statistic: one in ten respondents said they came across terrorist material online.
More than three-quarters of Maltese people said they agreed Internet hosting services should immediately remove content flagged as illegal by public or law enforcement authorities.
However, over a quarter of Maltese respondents (26 per cent) said the content they reported was kept online. This was one of the highest rates in Europe, compared to 10 per cent in Portugal and 15 per cent in Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia.
Times of Malta and SOS Malta have launched a one-year #stophate project, aimed at cultivating a culture that raises awareness of hate speech and its difference from freedom of speech.