“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” - A phrase many of us have probably heard over and over again growing up. But in the world of Social Media where it’s easier for people to hide behind the things they say or to say what’s on their mind without facing any real consequences; this saying is usually overlooked.
A recent UN report on “the age of digital interdependence” has identified the online hate-speech issue, its violation of human rights and the increased need for implementing measures to fix the problem.
Surely the internet and Social Media can’t be solely blamed as the leading cause of the problem. People by nature seem capable of leaning into their harsher, less pleasant inclinations and did so for years prior to the internet. It is perhaps safe to say that Social Media has exacerbated the problem. For example, heightened political tensions and party polarization in the United States have fuelled the normalization of offensive speech, often by far-right, Neo-Nazi groups. Social Media has provided a place for them to easily come together and spread their ideas.
Since the recent anti-Muslim mass shooting incident in New Zealand that was live-streamed by the shooter on Facebook and shared by millions; Facebook, YouTube and other social sharing sites have cracked down on what kind of content they allow you to circulate. In France, recent legislation has been put into effect that will require online companies to remove content deemed by the government to be offensive from their sites or face a hefty fine.
Other countries, such as the US, have been slow to follow suit, refusing to sign France’s “hate-speech” pledge. Aside from the fear that people will become too sensitive and ‘politically correct’, many people feel that the censorship of certain kinds of speech is a threat to free speech or, as Oxford Dictionary defines it, “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.” However, free speech, as seen with hate speech that is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic etc. can lead to the violation of human rights, particularly the violation of minority rights, and no one should have the unmediated freedom to harm others, even through what they say. While freedom is good, unlimited freedom can descend society into chaos and incivility.
It won’t be an easy line to walk as disagreements over what does and doesn’t count as hate speech make it a very grey area. Hopefully we will eventually all be able to agree that certain things simply don’t belong on the internet, or on our tongues for that matter.