Saturday, August 29, 2015

Defining Hate Speech

Defining “hate speech” is a classic eye-of-the-beholder problem: At what point does heated speech become hate speech and who should be in charge of drawing the line between the two? “The notion of a single definition of hate speech that everyone can agree on is probably illusory,” Foxman and Wolf note, especially because of “the continually evolving and morphing nature of online hate.” (p. 52, 103)  “Like every other form of human communication, bigoted or hateful speech is always evolving, changing its vocabulary and style, adjusting to social and demographic trends, and reaching out in new ways to potentially receptive new audiences.” (p. 92)

Many free speech advocates (including me) argue that the government should not be in the business of ensuring that people never have their feelings hurt. Censorial solutions are particularly problematic here in the United States since they would likely run afoul of the protections secured by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The clear trajectory of the Supreme Court’s free speech jurisprudence over the past half-century has been in the direction of constantly expanding protection for freedom of expression, even of the most repugnant, hateful varieties. Most recently, in Snyder v. Phelps, for example, the Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church could engage in hateful protests near the funerals of soldiers. “[T]his Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled,” ruled Chief Justice John Roberts for the Court’s 8-1 majority. The Court has also recently held that the First Amendment protects lying about military honors (United States v. Alvarez, 2012), animal cruelty videos (United States v.
Stevens, 2010), computer-generated depictions of child pornography (Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 2002), and the sale of violent video games to minors (Brown v. EMA, 2011). This comes on top of over 15 years of Internet-related jurisprudence in which courts have struck down every effort to regulate online expression. 6.24.13 --(Adam Thierer) Technology Liberation Front