Hate speech is defined as an “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.” In recent years, the widespread access to the internet and the proliferation of social media websites have provided new platforms for people to express their views freely, anonymously, and without any consequence: especially when such views are inflammatory in nature. The anonymity of this medium provides trolls and provocateurs an easy channel to promote hate speech. Globalization in the liberal world order has resulted in free movement of people, which in turn has created fear among the majority group in developed countries. In addition, the recent recession, unemployment, and stagnant wages have resulted in a situation where immigrants are usually blamed for economic problems.
Relationship between social media and violence
This has created an environment where extremist groups, especially white supremacist groups, use social media to amplify their voice. Their hate speech has instigated many of their followers to commit acts of violence against immigrants and minorities. Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist, used social media to livestream shootings that killed 51 people in Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. He livestreamed his first attack on Facebook Live, which quickly spread to other social media websites. The livestreamed video and 74-page manifesto quickly spread to on 8chan, an imageboard website where people often post extremist, racist, and violent views. One of the disadvantages of the Internet is that it has provided people platforms where they can anonymously espouse hate speech, radicalize and commit violent attacks. In the Middle East, terrorist groups such as ISIS have actively used social media to not only radicalize but also recruit fighters from across the world. As a result, terrorism has also become globalized due to the advent of social media.
In India, fake news propelled by communal and domestic tensions have resulted in mob lynching. False rumors of child abductors spread through WhatsApp have resulted in deaths of 29 people between 2017 and 2018. Rumors surrounding beef storage and illegal transportation of cows have also resulted in mob lynching. Cows are considered sacred by the Hindus, and Indian states have laws surrounding its meat and transportation. False information can be virally disseminated through WhatsApp groups with people taking action in their own hands. Indian police are perceived as corrupt and ineffective in people’s eyes, and therefore, it propels people to form quick vigilante groups and deliver quick justice, often in the form of mob violence.
Regulation of social media
This begs the question: is it possible for governments or technology companies to regulate hate speech on social media? In the United States, hate speech is not regulated and is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, the amendment does not protect targeted harassment or threats. Even in democracies such as England, there is Public Order Act (1986) which censures hate speech and includes fines, punishments, or both. English law is harsher than American law in terms of hate speech. In contrast, China’s strict regulation of free speech falls on the other end of the spectrum. The Chinese government severely controls and monitors the internet and implements heavy penalties on dissidents. This prevents freedom of speech and forces people to toe the government line. People avoid open critique of the government’s policies in fear of strong repercussions. Technology companies and governments should find the right balance where people’s free speech is not curtailed, but at the same time, there should be laws protecting victims against hate speech that is often used to provoke violence.
This blog post was contributed by Abhi Slathia, who is currently an intern at HasNa Inc.