‘Declaration of Independence’ Is Censored As Hate Speech: Effectively Confronting Actual Hate Speech Online
Facebook has apparently determined the US Declaration of Independence qualifies as hate speech. As The Vindicator of Liberty, Texas counted down the twelve days to Independence Day and hit the tenth day, Facebook deleted the publication’s latest installment. Due to unsavory phrases, including “merciless Indian Savages,” directly clipped from one of America’s most important historic documents, The Vindicator’s post was flagged and removed. It was likely an automated response, which demonstrates the inability of filters to distinguish between incendiary hate speech and intellectual discussion. The post has since been restored, but the incident does little to help common users with little recourse whose accounts are erroneously flagged for offensive statements. It also highlights the growing move by social media platforms and ad networks, often in concert with governments like that of Germany, to censor alleged hate speech.
Strictly speaking, hate speech is literally any language that conveys a hate-based message. The concept of “hate speech,” if it can be distinguished from legitimate free speech, is meant to encompass basically any derogatory and incendiary speech that encourages violence against specific social groups. “Hate speech” should be socially unacceptable, but systemically banning hate speech is a form of censorship that creates a whole host of issues, especially since it is nearly impossible to accurately distinguish actual “hate speech” from discriminatory expression en mass. Laws against libel, slander, other forms of defamation, and threats have existed for centuries. The freedom speech may be prized by modern liberal democracies, yet societies cannot function without legal consequences for those who willfully endanger the wellbeing of others. Defamation can destroy someone’s life while incendiary actions can place targets in mortal danger. These laws do not, however, infringe upon people’s freedom of expression.
Providing legal recourse against the malicious abuse of language is not the same thing as banning language that depicts a person’s unsavory views and feelings. It creates punitive measures for the malicious harm done to a person. Banning unsavory content is purely censorship, which undermines the mission of social media platforms that attempt to foster free and open discussions. Even if discriminatory speech can be distinguished from the discussion of discriminatory views by technology companies, it is essential to question the wisdom of doing so. Social platforms exist to connect people and their ideas. They help people transcend the geographic barriers of the physical world to connect with people from different communities and cultures. Platforms that segregate those with unsavory views and feelings simply transform the physical barriers that keep people in their ideological bubbles into digital barriers. Connecting haters with those they hate and those who stand against their views is the only way to neutralize their hate.
Even if incendiary, destructive hate speech can be effectively distinguished from discriminatory speech, which it likely cannot be, Facebook algorithms and administrators are not qualified to be the moral compass of the world. The whole of society must determine what are culturally acceptable views and practices. Not only does the freedom of expression allow communities to honestly gauge the views of people on others groups, it also creates opportunities to subtly change the minds of discriminatory people. There is always a risk that “hate speech” might spread across social media platforms like Facebook, but that only happens if people embrace the hate messages of discriminatory individuals. Yes, young people are even more susceptible to the influence of hate thanks to social media. Unfortunately, the indoctrination of young people is a concern that parents and communities must confront by actively challenging, not whitewashing, unsavory thoughts and feelings.
Quite frankly, social media can be highly influential. As a motivational tool, Facebook is transformed into a weapons by incendiary, destructive hate speech. Censoring hate speech will not, however, necessarily help blunt the harm of such speech. First of all, social media has proven to be a potent Law Enforcement tool. Criminals literally create posts confessing their misdeeds. Online hate speech gives Law Enforcement the “bread crumbs” they need to solve crimes when they happen. More importantly, it allows them to find those whose might commit a crime or those who are encouraging others to commit crimes before they happen. Free speech creates opportunities for interventions. That said, hate speech should be flagged as inappropriate and/or offensive as long as there are meaningful ways to dispute such distinctions. Users who do not approve of unsavory speech can then decide to avoid posts flagged into relatively specific categories. Police can also be notified of attempts to motivate criminal acts.
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