Perspectives

Why Online Hate Speech Is More Problematic than Offline Hate Speech


hate speech

Photo credit: timesofmalta.com

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

The internet is a vast world of communication. People of all views convene and engage with each others’ similarities and differences. Sometimes conversations on the internet are rich and productive. Other times, they become very ugly and showcase the challenges of online communication today. Hate speech is a current online challenge that has been a great concern among Americans who find the behavior distasteful. The idea of hate speech sparks conflict in our communities, both online and offline. The problem persists as hate speech maintains its legality in many cases as a subset of free speech, which has been explained by the Supreme Court.

We all know offline hate speech is problematic, but verbalized hate speech is always under far more scrutiny since vocal hate speech is typically less discreet than online hate speech. In many online platforms, anonymity (or the perception of invisibility) allows people to make hurtful comments on the internet without facing accountability, unlike in many situations in real life. The internet is also an excellent tool for effectively organizing groups, allowing people from all geographical regions to come together and quickly spread hateful ideas across the internet. Finally, online communities that produce hate speech silently participating in mob-like behavior, but are fully capable of delivering harm to others in the form of cyber bullying or other forms of harassment and violence. This is especially problematic as mob-like actions by these online groups are often not being monitored by others, which leaves the possibility that these groups can act to hurt others online or even in real life.

Methods of addressing online hate speech are currently lacking in effectiveness. Computer algorithms that track hate speech have been shown to be inefficient, and manual surveillance of all websites is far too cumbersome of an endeavor for any organization to pursue. Some websites make it easy to report cases of online hate speech, an effective instrument of social control. Employers weed out applicants or current employees who post inappropriate content online, including hate speech. Additionally, internet users frequently behave as a form of social control, condemning problematic words, ideas, or people. However, there is no method that is completely reliable and perfect at monitoring the hate speech, especially as hateful communities grow in active membership online.

Given our present circumstances in society, such as the rise in hate crimes, cases of online hate speech should be taken more seriously and more often as a possible violation of the liberty, freedoms, and unalienable rights of all Americans. If the government does not recognize the dangers of allowing hateful rhetoric to perpetuate through the right to anonymity on the internet, then more people may join online hate communities, subscribe to a hateful ideology, and consequently become problematic members. In the most extreme but serious instances, online hate speech, in its evolution as an effective means of organizing hostile views towards other groups, should be considered as a potential threat to our national security. Simply put, the expression of hate speech as “free speech” does not change the fact that hate speech is problematic to society. As such, abusing the right to privacy on the internet by propagating hate speech should be met with a standardized response that incorporates punitive measures.