Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

The Case for Censoring Hate Speech

Stricter regulation of Internet speech will not be popular with the entire public, but it’s necessary.

Continued from previous page


It hardly seems right to qualify a group fighting hate speech as an “interest group” trying to bring their “pet issue” to the attention of Facebook censors. The “special interest” groups she fears might apply for protection must meet Facebook's  strict community standards, which state:

While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

If anything, the groups to which York refers are nudging Facebook towards actually enforcing its own rules.

People who argue against such rules generally portray their opponents as standing on a slippery precipice, tugging at the question “what next?”  We can answer that question: Canada, England, France, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all ban hate speech. Yet, none of these countries have slipped into totalitarianism. In many ways, such countries are more free when you weigh the negative liberty to express harmful thoughts against the positive liberty that is suppressed when you allow for the intimidation of minorities. 
 As Arthur Schopenhauer said, “the freedom of the press should be governed by a very strict prohibition of all and every anonymity.” However, with the Internet the public dialogue has moved online, where hate speech is easy and anonymous. 
Jeffrey Rosen argues that norms of civility should be open to discussion, but, in today's reality, this issue has already been decided; impugning someone because of their race, gender or orientation is not acceptable in a civil society. Banning hate speech is not a mechanism to further this debate because the debate is over.
As Jeremy Waldron argues, hate speech laws prevent bigots from, “trying to create the impression that the equal position of members of vulnerable minorities in a rights-respecting society is less secure than implied by the society’s actual foundational commitments.” 
Some people argue that the purpose of laws that ban hate speech is merely to avoid offending prudes. No country, however, has mandated that anything be excised from the public square merely because it provokes offense, but rather because it attacks the dignity of a group—a practice the U.S. Supreme Court called in Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952) “group libel.” Such a standard could easily be applied to Twitter, Reddit and other social media websites. While Facebook’s policy as written should be a model, it’s enforcement has been shoddy. Chaim Potok argues that if a company claims to have a policy, it should rigorously and fairly enforce it.
If this is the standard, the Internet will surely remain controversial, but it can also be free of hate and allow everyone to participate. A true marketplace of ideas must co-exist with a multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-sexually-oriented society, and it can.

Sean McElwee is a writer and researcher of public policy. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter @seanmcelwee