Dehumanization, hate speech, and violence have continued to grow in the United States both on social media and in real life. The Southern Policy Law Center’s Hate Watch has found that hate groups and hate speech have grown drastically since 2016 and hate speech is being widely spread across social media. We saw this in response to the Black Lives Matter protest’s that erupted internationally in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by ex- police officer, Derek Chauvin. The response to the Black Lives Matter movement was largely riddled with hate speech calling protestors thugs, animals, and the frequent use of racial slurs to describe protestors. We have also seen hate speech erupt in response to the Covid-19 pandemic towards Asian Americans online.
As we discussed in Ten Steps to Genocide and The Rise of Dehumanization on Social Media, hate speech and dehumanization of groups online has real-world consequences and increases violence towards these groups. We have seen a spike of violence and hate crimes on both Black and Asian American citizens within the last year. Given this, it is important to understand what hate speech is, and why hate speech is protected in the United States.
The United States does not have a definition for hate speech under the law, but, generally it is a a form of expression that is intended to vilify, humiliate, or dehumanize a group of people based on the race, religion, sexual and gender identity, ethnicity, disabilities, or national origin of the group.
Many countries have outlawed hate speech, including both Germany and Australia. The countries that have outlawed hate speech do so by stating that hate speech is not inherently protected under free speech because hate speech poses a threat to a peaceful society and promotes violence towards a group, therefore it cannot be protected under the law. However, this is not the case in the United States, where even though hate speech is highly related to violence against the group the speech is targeting, it is protected under the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment in the constitution.
Free speech in the United States can be defined as the moral right to freedom of expression and requires that people be free to express themselves and communicate freely with others. Free speech not only protects “pure speech” such as books, newspapers, blogs, and online communication, but it also protects “symbolic speech” which is nonverbal expression to communicate ideas. Symbolic speech would include things like political apparel, works of art, or music. Under this definition, the protection of free speech in the United States is meant to protect the autonomy, agency, and expression of American Citizens.
Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment if the speech does not directly instigate or threaten violence towards a group or person. Of course, this can be tricky to determine. Although hate speech may not be directly threatening violence towards a group, we do know that as hate speech grows, so does violence and hate crimes.
The United States has widely debated the protection of hate speech under the First Amendment for a variety of reasons.
- Obviously, free speech is extremely important to protect, as it allows people to critique the government, speak for social justice, and express themselves without fear of persecution. Many people have stated outlawing hate speech and allowing the government to decide what constitutes as hate speech can be a slippery slope in the government deciding to limit all types of free speech or redefine what constitutes hate.
- On the other hand, the protection of hate speech has violent and dangerous consequences for the people it is directed towards. Victims of hate speech freedoms are threatened by hate speech, as they may be unable or unwilling to speak of their experience out of fear of a violent retaliation or psychological or emotional consequences of utilizing their freedom of speech.
While the protection of hate speech may protect the freedom of expression for the people using it, it denies the freedom of expression, and the freedom to live protected from emotional and physical violence from others. As hate speech and hate crimes continue to rise, the debate continues. So, what do you think? Should hate speech be considered free speech?