NEARLY three in four Scots believe those who post sectarian comments on social media are harming Scotland's reputation - but there remains a "high level of uncertainty" over what registers as a crime.

That's the conclusion of new research that showed Scots were split over what is and what is not breaking the law when using sectarian language online.

The study by YouthLink Scotland and ScotCen Social Research found people were unclear over whether the use of the word 'fenian' in a tweet was against the law or not, with 51 per cent saying it was either probably or definitely and 36 per cent saying probably or definitely not, with 14 per cent unsure. The tweet said: "Hate every horrible fenian in ma group chat especially jack man."

HeraldScotland: Most football fans can behave even in a derby but there are always the feckless few who ruin things

When it came to the term "vile horrible Orange b****rds" in another tweet, 33 per cent thought it was definitely or probably against the law, with 45 per cent saying it was probably or definitely not with 12 per cent unsure. The tweet said: "Standstill in town and ye canny even cross the road cause ae the vile horrible Orange b****rds."

Around one in six did not think posting sectarian comments on social media was even against the law.

A "significant proportion" viewed the use of the word 'fenian' and 'proddy' acceptable with 23 per cent and 31 per cent seeing nothing wrong.

The study comes a day before the Scottish Parliament is expected to pass Labour MSP James Kelly's bill to scrap the controversial Offensive Behaviour Act which was aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football matches and was brought in following the Old Firm “shame game” between Rangers and Celtic in 2011.


The Sectarianism on Social Media report said: The findings suggest that people are unsure what the current legislation concerning sectarian language online is."

Respondents asked to examine four real online posts containing sectarian terms for Catholics and Protestants and most thought the language was "unacceptable" for online use, ranging from 50 per cent to 65 per cent per tweet.

However one in four believed the terms are acceptable, with younger people more likely to chose this option.

Between 62 per cent and 72 per cent said did not believe the tweets were "just banter".

The findings also suggested a lack of knowledge in relation to the current most severe sentence for posting sectarian comments on social media.

One in four did not know what the most severe sentence for posting sectarian language is and a further 15 per cent thought a community sentence was the most severe sentence with 13 per cent thinking it was a fine.


Only one in six correctly identified that the most severe sentence was a prison sentence of up to five years although 17 per cent thought it would be a prison sentence of up to a year.

The report added: "The majority of people thought that the most severe sentence for posting sectarian comments online would be a sentence of some description, but the variety of answers given suggests lack of certainty in this respect.

"The findings suggest that there is a need for clearer guidance around the current legislation on online sectarianism to raise people’s awareness of what would be the appropriate course of action should they come across it. "

The report found that the main contributor to sectarianism in Scotland was football (76 per cent) followed by Orange Order marches (73 per cent), Irish Republican marches (63per cent) and the internet and social media (63 per cent).


The majority of people believe prejudice towards Catholics still exists in Scotland (68 per cent) while 55 per cent believed the same for Protestants.

However, more than a quarter (27 per cent) thought there was little or no prejudice towards Catholics and 40 per cent said held this belief for Protestants.

Lisa Gallacher, Digital Development and Participation Officer at YouthLink Scotland: "The survey findings show that there is more work to be done on online sectarianism in Scotland.

"The majority of people think posting sectarian comments on social media causes harm to Scotland's image and most people disagree that sectarian language online is 'just banter."



Almost half (48 per cent) believe anti-Catholic online language is a big problem, with 36 per cent saying it is a small problem and 16 per cent saying it is not a problem at all.

For sectarian language online against Protestants, this changed to 40 per cent, 44 per cent and 17 per cent.