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Information Technology Law: Hate Speech Online Essay

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Updated: May 15th, 2021

The impact of the development of technologies on hate speech

The appearance of the phenomenon of hate speech was influenced by the development of information technology with a focus on web 2.0 technologies.1

  • Web 2.0 technologies allowed for sharing and exchanging different types of information and messages.2
  • Web-based communities and social networks are currently available for the global public for free.
    • The amount of racially-biased, aggressive, or extremists-oriented content on the Internet increased significantly during recent years.
    • Social media, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, among others, became the platforms for sharing violent, biased, anti-religious, and racist messages that target different vulnerable audiences, including the youth.3

The development of information technologies and the availability of mobile devices have created the situation when users are at risk of being targets of hate speech at any time and place.

  • The key reasons for this are distant access and anonymity in spite of the necessity to register in order to use social media websites, blogs, and other similar platforms.
    • The personality of users who post hate speech commentaries or share messages cannot be legally disclosed in most cases if their actions do not violate organisations’ policies and terms.4
  • Additional reasons for developing hate speech in association with technological factors are the possibilities to use multiple different accounts, encryption tools, and additional technologies to share hate speech messages.5
    • Monitoring that is used on Facebook and similar websites is not enough to prevent the spread of hate speech because of confidentiality issues.6
    • The disclosure of users’ private information is still a debatable issue that needs to be discussed in detail.

Types of hate speech

Hate speech is defined as an expression of prejudiced and discriminatory attitude or hatred towards an individual or a group of individuals. 7

  1. In most cases, hate speech includes violent, aggressive, and harmful statements and messages that affect the target audience.8
  2. Hate speech is also associated with potentially threatening behaviour for a target person.9

There is different classifications and types of hate speech.

  • Types of hate speech based on the target of hatred include racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, among others.
    • People can be discriminated against on the Internet because of their race or ethnicity, and racism is observed in this case.10
    • Misogyny is associated with discrimination and prejudice related to the female gender that is spread in social media.
    • Religion often becomes the target of hate speech while leading to the development of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
    • Religion and ideology also become causes of spreading extremists’ views.
    • Other forms of hate speech also include cyberbullying in the form of continuous harassment using electronic devices.11
  • The other classification of hate speech types depends on the role of laws in prohibiting this speech.
    • Lawful hate speech raises issues regarding intolerance and provokes researchers’ debates; thus, it is usually legally protected.
    • Hate speech affecting reputation and rights at individual and national levels should be restricted.
    • Discriminatory and violent hate speech, as well as speech provoking hostility and genocide, is restricted in all cases.12

Real-world consequences of hate speech

If hate speech is oriented to affecting an individual, it is important to note that its consequences include humiliation and abuse associated with the necessity of overcoming psychological and emotional pressure.

If hate speech is oriented to affecting groups of people, as it is in the case of racism or hatred that is oriented to homosexual couples, for example, it can lead to even wider consequences.

  1. The call to violent actions against the affected group is one of the typical consequences of posting extremist commentaries on social media.13
  2. The call to extremists’ actions and any other actions against the target group is the other problem that leads to developing conflicts, extremists’ movements, assaults, and attacks.

Legal issues associated with regulating hate speech on the Internet

The regulation of the web space in terms of finding and addressing hate speech can be considered as a problematic and controversial issue because of differences in laws accepted in the European countries and the United States.

  • The Constitutions of many European countries, including Austria, France, Germany, and Italy, among others, guarantee the right to freedom of speech, but also provide permissible restrictions in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).14
  • As the United Kingdom has no Constitution, legislative initiatives that regulate hate of speech are reflected in certain acts adopted in the country.15
  • In the United States, the freedom of speech is protected according to the First Amendment, and only persistent harassment that is oriented to an individual with messages including threats can be prosecuted in this country.
    • If a person from the United States spreads violent messages, and his or her actions are protected according to the First Amendment, he or she cannot be prosecuted in another country where these actions are associated with hate speech.16

The problem is that the vague definition of hate speech and specific approaches to addressing it usually provoke issues that are associated with protecting free speech rights.

  1. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 19 of the ICCPR, individuals’ right to freedom of speech or expression are protected.17
  2. In order to combat hate speech without violating free speech rights, it is necessary to adopt the unified definition of hate speech that should be reflected in the codes and acts of all countries.

Websites are obligatory to remove the content that violates their policies and guidelines, but in spite of being effective, these actions are not immediate and require time.

Current approaches to regulating hate speech

In the United States, hate speech is under-regulated.18

  1. The First Amendment protects different forms of self-expression online, and prosecutions are possible only in individual life-threatening cases.19
  2. Only private web-based organisations and social media can regulate hate speech while adding certain statements to their policies, guidelines, and terms in order to prevent race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other types of discrimination.20

In the United Kingdom, the Public Order Act (1986) and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act (2006) prohibit racially and religiously offensive speech, and this legislation also controls online hate speech. 21

It is also important to pay attention to the fact that, in France, hate speech is regulated with reference to the Constitution and laws that control the press, as well as decisions in cases similar to Lehideux and Isorni v France (1998).22

The European countries seem to cooperate in addressing hate speech with reference to developing and amending Article 19 of the ICCPR.

At the international arena, the cooperation to combat hate speech is realised with the help of the Convention on Cybercrime (2001) signed by some European countries, the United States and Canada, among other states.23

Potential future approaches to regulating hate speech

In order to provide effective solutions to the problem of hate speech spread online, it is necessary to amend the Convention on Cybercrime (2001) with the focus on this issue.

  1. It is also possible to develop and sign one more treaty that can effectively regulate hate speech as a content-related crime on the Internet.
  2. The amended Convention on Cybercrime (2001) or a new treaty should reflect international standards for protecting human rights.24

It is important to note that all states should focus on defining clearly what cases should be regulated as hate speech cases and what situations are protected by rights to freedom of expression.

The C. States should focus on adopting separate laws for regulating hate speech in the context of cybercrimes with the focus on content and actions that should be prohibited.

  1. These laws should be formulated in line with Article 19 of the UDHR and Article 19 and Article 20 of the ICCPR.25
  2. The laws should be oriented to prohibiting discrimination, hostility, aggression, and violence that can be potentially threatening for people and leading to extremism and genocide.
  3. These steps are required in order to make sure that cyberspace is protected from different types of crimes, including hate speech, which can be identified and determined with problems, and this issue requires its further solution.

Reference List

Brown, A., ‘What is Hate Speech? Part 1: The Myth of Hate’, Law and Philosophy, vol. 36, no. 4, 2017, pp. 419-468.

Convention on Cybercrime 2001 (Budapest), art. 1.

Gagliardone, I. et al., Countering Online Hate Speech, Paris, France, UNESCO Publishing, 2015.

Glen, C., Controlling Cyberspace: The Politics of Internet Governance and Regulation, Santa Barbara, CA, ABC-CLIO, 2017.

’, Article 19, London, UK, Free Word Centre, 2015. Web.

Joyce, D., ‘Internet Freedom and Human Rights’, European Journal of International Law, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 493-514.

Lehideux and Isorni v France (1998) 55/1997/839/1045 APP 92.

Murray, A., Information Technology Law: The Law and Society, 3rd edn., Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Public Order Act 1986 (London), s. 12.

Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (London), s. 10.

’, Article 19, London, UK, Free Word Centre, 2018. Web.

Reynolds, G., Ethics in Information Technology, 6th edn., London, UK, Cengage Learning, 2018.

The United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (Paris), art. 19.

UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999.

Footnotes

  1. A. Murray, Information Technology Law: The Law and Society, 3rd edn., Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 132.
  2. Ibid., 132-133.
  3. G. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, 6th edn., London, UK, Cengage Learning, 2018, p. 201.
  4. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, pp. 201-202.
  5. ‘Responding to ‘Hate Speech’: Comparative Overview of Six EU Countries’, Article 19, London, UK, Free Word Centre, 2018, p. 22. Web.
  6. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, pp. 201-202.
  7. ‘Hate Speech’ Explained: A Toolkit’, Article 19, London, UK, Free Word Centre, 2015, pp. 9-10. Web.
  8. Ibid., 9-11.
  9. I. Gagliardone et al., Countering Online Hate Speech, Paris, France, UNESCO Publishing, 2015, p. 42.
  10. A. Brown, ‘What is Hate Speech? Part 1: The Myth of Hate’, Law and Philosophy, vol. 36, no. 4, 2017, pp. 420.
  11. C. Glen, Controlling Cyberspace: The Politics of Internet Governance and Regulation, Santa Barbara, CA, ABC-CLIO, 2017, pp. 54-56.
  12. ‘Hate Speech’ Explained: A Toolkit’, Article 19, London, UK, Free Word Centre, 2015, pp. 18-20. Web.
  13. D. Joyce, ‘Internet Freedom and Human Rights’, European Journal of International Law, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 495.
  14. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999.
  15. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, pp. 201-202.
  16. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, pp. 201-202.
  17. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999; The United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (Paris), art. 19
  18. Glen, Controlling Cyberspace, pp. 54-56.
  19. Reynolds, Ethics in Information Technology, pp. 201-202.
  20. Glen, Controlling Cyberspace, pp. 112-122.
  21. Public Order Act 1986 (London), s. 12; Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (London), s. 10.
  22. Lehideux and Isorni v France (1998) 55/1997/839/1045 APP 92.
  23. Convention on Cybercrime 2001 (Budapest), art. 1.
  24. Convention on Cybercrime 2001 (Budapest), art. 1.
  25. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999.
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