Tag Archive | "hate speech"

The Angry Internet

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The Angry Internet


As we all mourn the loss of life in the Arizona shooting and hope for the speedy recovery of those injured, I can not help but wonder what extent the rise of internet and media hate speech played at a minimum, a tinderbox role in the event.  One only has to use Google and stare in wonder at the breadth of the angry net to understand how this could happen and mind boggle at the fact that it has not happened more often.

Should society become less tolerant of viral hatred and online rants that even tangentially target individuals or classes even though the 1st Amendment protects such speech?  Anger, threats and whacked out nut jobs abound in an boundaryless arena that often seems to value protection of rhetoric over the safety of the  individual.  The downside and upside of a free and democratic society. It however, seems clear that while the 1st Amendment still provides the same guidelines set out in cases like Brandenburg v. Ohio, society as a whole is becoming less tolerant of such internet vitriol.  Should the 1st Amendment also morph to take more notice of the threat and offer less protection to violent rants and media incitement?  It appears that it is happening even without the blessing of SCOTUS.

As a society we are becoming less tolerant of angry people on the internet, especially when those angry people incite other angry  people to take action even when those people are unknown.   It used to take more than theoretical action and nebulous calls to action.  There had to be real an imminent threat.  That is no longer the case.  Outside of courtrooms and far away from 1st Amendment legal briefs, a post 9-11 and  Nidal Malik Hasan society is becoming more thin skinned to veiled written threats that may have one time never made it to a jury but now are taken seriously and result in convictions even though there is no real imminent threat to the intended recipient or even to a general class of individuals.  Prosecutors are getting convictions on web rants and internet threats in which ranters are left to wonder what went wrong while they do prison time and their appeal winds its way through the court thinking  they had followed the “can’t touch me” 1st Amendment blueprint.  As society becomes more fearful and tired of such internet vitriol the 1st Amendment becomes less of a Kryptonite shield and such arguments to a jury are more likely to fall of deaf ears.  Times are changing.  The 1st Amendment and the societal concept of “free speech” is changing with them.

Posted in Law and Order, politicsComments (3)

Free Speech And Hate Speech In Social Networks

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Free Speech And Hate Speech In Social Networks


I came across an interesting piece about cyber-bullying of  gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens on Facebook and the steps the social network was taking to combat it.  This is nothing new.  As long as their are people, there will be hate speech.  It’s the human condition. As a representative correctly point out, Facebook is just as vulnerable to this condition as other cross-sections of society.

What I found interesting was the hate speech/free speech discussion. When does free speech become hate speech in social networks like Facebook?”  I was at first confused.  Is not  hate speech for the most part free speech?   That is unless it incites others to imminent violence, threatens the President Of The United States and some other narrow exceptions.  Why make the confusing distinction?  The reason the distinction was valid in this article was that it was specifically referring to Facebook and not the brick and mortar world.  Facebook is a community that attempts to emulate 1st Amendment ideals of free speech but that’s where it ends. It ends there because Facebook is a private company.  As such, the 1st Amendment and traditional free speech values have no practical bearing.  Free speech and hate speech are just terms of art within the network to be adjusted by the network to best suit the interests of the network.  Translation? Free speech and hate speech are whatever Facebook and other social networks say they are at any given moment.

So what are they?  Two years ago, I debated this very issue with Facebook representatives relating to Holocaust Denial.  I felt that Facebook Groups promoting Holocaust Denial were in themselves “hateful content” as outlined in Facebook’s Terms Of Service and should have been removed from the site.  Facebook felt differently.  I even presented my thoughts  to a group of employees at Facebook corporate offices.  While not agreeing with their position,  I came to understand their point of view about having internal standards to which employees can look at content and not have to make value judgments about a particular type of speech. Without such standards Facebook employees assigned to deal with these issues would be overwhelmed with disputes over content that one person may find “hateful” and another felt was legitimate expression. They could not hire enough employees to deal with these types of disagreements.  As one employee put it, Facebook was  looking for “binary certainty” in making these decision on “hateful content”.

There is the rub.  What is the binary standard?  To this day, to my knowledge, Facebook has never released or publicly stated how they evaluate “hateful content”.  Where and how do they draw the line?  I have an idea how they do it because I was privy to internal exchange with their employees.  Why not tell everyone.  Why not some transparency.  The same transparency many employees acknowledged was lacking  when I spoke there.  Two years later, nothing much has changed with regards to “free speech” and “hate speech”  The general user perception is that it is whatever Facebook says it is.   At least in the brick and mortar world I can pull up The Constitution and Supreme Court opinions that guide me.  That standard does not represent the beliefs of all Facebook users across the world but for better or worse that is the standard Facebook uses. It’s transparent.  Emulate that aspect as well.

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Hitler Ringtones?

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Hitler Ringtones?


I was reading a piece about man who faces jail in Germany for using an anti-Semitic Hitler speech as a ring-tone. This particular speech pledged “the destruction of world Jewry.”

Germany happens to have laws in place against hate speech, Holocaust Denial and other types of hateful expression borne of Nazi Germany.  The guy faces up to 6 months in jail.  It brings to mind an incident not long ago.  I was at the gym listening to my iPod.  Just after I was serenaded by Billy Joel, I was snapped to attention when a Hitler speech started playing!  Quite the musical transition!  Imagine my surprise when I went from Billy Joel to a Hitler rant.

I had previously downloaded some Hitler speeches as part of my research for a book on hate speech.  Unbeknown to me, the speeches had transferred to my iPod when I synced it with my Mac.   Glad there were no police waiting to arrest me.  I will be sure to check my Ipod play-list before my next trip to Germany.

Posted in Law and OrderComments (1)

An Eye On Kenya

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An Eye On Kenya


I have been paying attention to Kenya’s attempt to put a new Constitution in place, particularly as it applies to freedom of expression and hate speech. The constitution will be voted on in August.

Kenya, while having some guarantees of free expression in place, takes a much different view on hate speech than the United States. They experience it differently on a cultural and ethnic level.  Hateful rhetoric similar to speech targeting Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and other religious and ethnic minorities that we may find despicable but part of a free society has resulted in full scale riots in Kenya.  They are therefore much more sensitive to the relationship between words, violence and ethnic incitement.

Kenya’s hate speech laws read as follows under Section  Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008:

Any person who utters words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both or a newspaper, radio station or media enterprise that publishes the utterances referred to in subsection (1) commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings.”

Section 13 of the Act stipulates that a person is liable to be charged with hate speech when he or she uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays any written material.

Think that would fly here in the United States?

I found of particular interest, an opinion piece written by John Orso on the allAfrica.com web site entitled “Hate Speech Must Be Penalised“referring to the recent arrests of Kenyan politicians on hate speech charges. He wrote:

After the turmoil which followed the 2007 general elections, Kenyans developed certain sensitivities which every politician and public speaker needs to observe whenever addressing the public. On its part, the government has no option but to ensure that laws against hate speech and incitement are applied. In any case, such laws can only serve their purpose as preventative measures”

If that article was written regarding U.S. politician and media exhortations, we would probably snicker.  As long as Glenn Beck or some other political pundit does not exhort us to go out and commit murder, it’s no holds barred with the ratings winner to he or she or screams the loudest and in the most outrageous fashion. Accusations of hate speech routinely fly back and forth here. In reality, they have no standardized meaning so no one cares on a societal level.  It’s just speech.  Words don’t hurt, unless you live in Kenya.  In Kenya it’s life or death.  As we bask in the glory of free speech and the right to say the outrageous at no cost but to our dignity, lets not lose site of the fact that words are sticks and stones, just not here…

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