If you’ve been on a social media site for more than twenty minutes, you might have gotten the idea that people on the Internet don’t particularly like each other.
That is to say, sometimes they hate each other. And they like to proclaim it. Often, we call those proclamations hate speech.
Recently, several tech giants, including Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have taken a stand against it. They have pledged to remove hate speech within 24 hours of it appearing on their sites.
But that begs the question: what is hate speech?
Okay, yes, we know the dictionary definition. But that’s not helpful for a buzzword that changes definition faster than most people change their underwear.
So let’s begin by asking a few clarifying questions.
First of all, is hate speech classified by the severity of the words used? Suppose I switch every instance of hate with “dislike”. Is it still hate speech?
And then you have to ask: can you strongly dislike something without hating it? And can you voice disapproval for something without your statement being marked as hate speech?
I would say yes. For example, I strongly dislike bananas. I don’t hate them, and I certainly don’t wish death on those who eat them, but personally I would prefer not to eat a banana.
Of course, it’s easy to say that when you’re talking about a fruit. However, most people discuss more important things than that. Like moral, social, and ethical issues. And it’s tough to discuss those without tempers flaring, as your morals and ethics are part of your core beliefs which shape how you view well, the world.
Which means most people get defensive in a morality/ethics discussion. Most times, when you do question a person’s beliefs, alarm bells begin to go off, warning the person that what they hold to be true is being attacked. When that happens, even a simple, “I don’t see how you can believe in ________” can be viewed as hate speech.
But I’m not saying that hate speech is just one big misunderstanding. If a person is saying something like “You and all your kind should be deported/jailed/executed”, well, then there’s a 99% chance that that’s hate speech.
Now that we’ve realised that hate speech is rather hard to classify, let’s get on to the main question: so, should we condone hate speech?
Well, depends on what you call hate speech. I think that as rational and intelligent people, we can discuss topics without hating the other person or wishing everyone who held the other person’s beliefs would just die. That’s rather immature. Questioning their beliefs graciously and objectively, however, without insults and malice, is not hate speech, and I think that such discussion should be encouraged.
But in a heated discussion, the battle can turn personal, as some see an attack on personal beliefs as personal attacks, and they react with a major explosion. So they respond with something like “You’re such a terrible person. Why don’t you just get mauled/run over/poisoned?” That, no doubt, is hate speech, and sadly, it seems to be the only way some netizens know how to communicate. This kind of speech should not be condoned at all.
But now we reach a “grey” area of the discussion, which includes stereotypes, racism, and the whole lot. Remember the San Bernardino shootings? Apparently, one neighbour was already suspicious of the couple, but did not say anything because for fear of being called racist.
So, the neighbour was afraid that an accusation would be marked as hate speech. Or, even worse, that people would return the compliment and spew hate speech back at them.
I feel that at that point, a background check on the person who made the comment would decide whether or not that was hate speech, or genuine concern. I mean, if the informant was an absolute nut who spewed fire and brimstone on particular groups all of the time, then I would say that the “concern” is most likely just part of a series of rants. However, if the informant is a respectable person who doesn’t have a history of fabrications just to prove their own points, then I would suggest taking their claim seriously. And, of course, not calling it hate speech.
So basically, I think that the definition of hate speech should be this: speech that attacks a group or person fueled primarily by malicious intent, which is in no way constructive for further discussion.
And, with my new definition, yes, I would condemn hate speech.