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Online Hate Speech

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Online Hate Speech

"All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down." Friedrich Nietzsche knew well that words have immense power if used correctly. Unfortunately, they also have power to hurt and even to kill. If an individual uses this power to attack a person or a group on the basis of their race, sexuality or religion with the intention to hurt, it is called hate speech. The phenomenon of hate speech has been there since the invention of the alphabet. First, it was fuelled by religious and political fanatism, frequently seen in the form of street graffiti or pamphlets and now with the invention of computers and internet it has acquired an online form. Before online hate speech, it has been only a localized problem but now it can spread and target anyone using the internet.

Every hateful comment or message we see online is written using social media, email correspondence or by creating a whole new webpage for just that purpose. Fortunately, the owners of such sites have the power to delete any content they see unfit or harming in any way. Thus, some hateful ideas can be deleted right before taking root. However, this form of regulation varies on every social media or site and somewhere it is still unregulated. In this case, the only solution that seems efficient and affects everyone the same is by turning to the law. The state has the power to influence all social media or websites owners and thus offers a solution to this problem. The number of hateful messages with the intention to harm would drastically decrease if for example an appropriate fine would be paid once someone would be found guilty of such act. Although difficult to implement given the anonymity that internet provides, this form of regulation seems to be a reasonable approach for many reasons. For one it is a form of abuse. Children need safe environment growing up and to not deal with individuals or groups promoting division and intolerance, which eventually lead to harm and marginalization of affected groups (lesbian, gay, Muslim, Christian etc.). Consequently, legal punishment of hate speech would greatly benefit the safety of society as many individuals would be found and prosecuted before they could form or find a hate group, which would additionally limit coordinated attacks on certain groups or minorities.

Just because the internet is not equal to the real world does not mean that it does not affect people the same way. The internet is new uninhabited territory and needs a set of rules to function properly. Children use the internet on their phones every day. They browse web pages with online games and meet other people in chat rooms. It is vital that they meet others with different opinions and ideas and it plays a great part in their development and orientation in the world. But in some cases, the anonymity which the internet provides makes it easier to target vulnerable individuals and leads to internet bullying. Parents cannot always monitor their child’s internet activity and for that case must the internet space be regulated. Finding content from hate speech individuals or groups or being directly addressed by them could greatly affect their view of their surrounding and damage their opinions about society as a whole. Punishment of hate speech online would limit such content and thus improve the child’s safety. One could object to this idea with an argument that children would be brought up in a too sterile environment and that unfiltered internet content would make minors recognize the world for what it really is. However, it must be stated that the internet is only a few decades old and the online world is still a relatively new and quickly developing phenomenon which is better to approach with caution at least regarding the children.

There are certain places on the internet where one can find groups of people that have the same sexuality or religion. Certain hate groups target these internet societies with racist, sexual and other inappropriate comments. People’s dignity or human rights should not be up for debate. This problem ultimately leads to the marginalization of these groups and can inflict harm on some. For example, living in a country that forbids same sex relationship is already quite damaging for individuals which have such sexuality. They look for others dealing with similar issues online and frequently develop a whole group that supports them. However, such groups especially on well-known social media websites such as Facebook or Twitter makes some of the content that is exchanged visible to other users and can thus be targeted by the so called “haters”. Excluding, banning or reporting such users is not in all cases helpful as the individual can always make a new profile on the webpage. “Enduring such hatred over years can limit people’s opportunities, isolate them socially, push them into poverty, lead to loss of self-esteem and depression, and endanger their health and safety.”[1] Legal punishment of such acts would give more safe space for interaction to those who need it. Some argue that the regulated approach limits people’s right for free speech but in this context, allowing someone to use the right for free speech in order to damage or cause pain to somebody else does not promote what this right represents.  



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