13 November 2018
Rough Draft #1 for Essay 3
Hate speech is a very controversial and misinterpreted form of speech that can truly prompt harm to a person, this speech can be potentially dangerous merely because words do in fact have power and are capable of influencing others. Hate speech promotes bigotry and trivializes the certain groups it targets. Hate speech itself is capable of causing long lasting damage to the target. There was a study conducted at Syracuse University where professors acknowledged that there is a constant correlation between suicide rates and hate speech, people’s behaviors and ways of thinking have the possibility to be altered because of hate speech. However, the amount of damage truly done depends on the type of environment it is vocalized in, for example “hate speech” played out in a large setting such as Times Square in New York, which would have a large mass of people, may not have as great of an impact on specific individuals as it would if roommates in a dorm expressed hate speech towards each other.
The issue here is, many people truly believe that freedom of expression allows them to say and do absolutely anything and everything, which is essentially true, as long as it does not discriminate against and belittle another person. People should not be allowed to say anything that denigrates another person without consequences that follow, once that person interferes with another persons’ life in a negative fashion, their “freedom of speech” rights no longer exist in that sense. I believe that people should be able to listen, learn from and take in “constructive criticism”, those not being insults, which differentiates from criticism by having malicious intentions.
Overall, hate speech does not have one solid definition. Many people may formulate similar definitions for “hate speech”, however, they may differ from each other ever so slightly. Rae Langton defines hate speech as “speech that promotes racial or sexual or perhaps some other so of hatred”, while Lovell Anderson and Ernie Lepore define hate speech as “slurs, as a matter of convention, carry negative attitudes towards targeted groups” and “expressions that target groups on the basis of race, nationality, religion, gender, ethnic origins, and sexual orientation” (Johnson 82.) Each of their own definitions for the word are all correct, however, they are slightly different in how they chose to word the definition itself. Hate speech itself, is intended to cause physical injury to the target and or arouse hatred and hostility towards a target, that aspect is the only thing keeping the definitions of the phrases “hate speech” and “discriminatory speech” from being mixed up. In Kameron Johnsons article, he goes on to explain how the word hate speech has “multiple referents”, meaning that simultaneously while the hate speech may be targeting only one individual, hate speech itself automatically includes the entire group targeted. “Hate speech cannot merely be used against individuals; in any instance where they are used against an individual, they, at the same time, refer to the whole of the target group as well” (Johnson 85.)
I will acknowledge that we do not exactly live in a “perfect society”, we may argue or fight with one another, and we may express our own opinions and feelings to one or many, and all of those are allowed. However, speech that is considered “damaging and destructive” (Nelson 116), should be regulated and have limitations in specific social settings. Social settings, such as college campuses and high school campuses have been a regular topic of discussion, in which people want to put limitations on what can and cannot be said or done. Let’s say there was a school contest where students were to dress up in “offensive” costumes towards race or sex, at a majority of colleges and Universities, this would be protected under the First Amendment. Wouldn’t it be nice if we did not have to witness such displays that alienate race, sexes and lifestyles? Unfortunately, this is not the case at most colleges, the colleges themselves are caught up in a situation where they are attempting to preserve their students’ “First Amendment Rights” while trying to preserve their students’ rights to learn in a comfortable environment where “offensive language and displays” are not a problem. Efficiently regulating hate speech in a large setting such as Times Square, may be “close to impossible” (Nelson 116), but with consistent enforcement on a college campus, it certainly could be possible. The issue with this is that previously, some college campuses have attempted to prohibit and regulate hate speech, but courts have sided with striking those down due to their regulations being too “broad”. This is where the broad idea of hate speech actually creates the stigma of “narrow-mindedness” when it comes to solving the issue as a whole.
Now onto how hate speech is portrayed in the “social media” aspect of society. Unfortunately, “hate has become easier to spread in the internet age.”(Gansler) and has spiraled out of control, and there is not an easy solution for this issue. Facebook and Instagram, along with other social media platforms are all privately owned companies, which means the company themselves can moderate and censor what is said on their website, but generally the “First amendment protects speech about public figures more than speech about private individuals” therefore, social media only has so much power to regulate hate speech, social media themselves have limitations on regulating. “Under the First Amendment, the content that users’ of social media produce is generally protected from the government, but the amendment doesn’t protect that content from the platforms’ themselves” (Lincoln Caplan.) The First Amendment does in fact grant us the freedom of speech, including the right to spread hate through speech, however, there are limitations and it does not alter the overall wrongfulness of targeting a specific individual using hate speech. The First Amendment also manages to make it very difficult for the government to prohibit speech explicitly. Caplan’s article specifically states that unless the hate speech is potentially going to spark violence or does in fact spark violence, the first amendment protects it, and essentially, the only suggested solution is to explain why that type of speech is wrong. In some other countries, any type of “hate speech” is not allowed under any circumstance. Other countries ban hate speech, and people may be severely punished for it, even if the speech used is not intended to spark violence. Zeynep Tufekci, who is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina says “All of this invalidates much of what we think about free speech conceptually, legally, and ethically. The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself” (Lincoln Caplan.)
In Maryland, Reverend Fred Phelps began a protest, in order to draw attention to his view that our society is too lenient and tolerant of homosexuality. In the protest “They stood at the entrance of the church where the funeral was held, waving signs that said, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates You.”(Doug Gansler.) Maryland found that, yes, the protestors did have a right to express their “hate” in this case. However, they then decided to publicly publish a poem labeled “The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder” (Gansler), which spoke about how his parents raised him on behalf of the devil and how he became “ruined”. Fred Phelps and his protestors did have the right to express their opinions with the signs and protesting they did, however, when it came around to Matthew Snyders funeral, his father was truly affected by the words that were said about his son. Maryland allowed them to protest, but their intrusion on Snyder’s funeral was constituted as a wrongdoing. Their conduct was then labeled as “extreme and unnecessary” towards Snyder’s family during a time of grief. In Gansler’s article, he explains that “While the Phelpses can express their hate in numerous ways at numerous times, Mr. Snyder could only bury his son at one moment, and the Phelpses used their speech to destroy that moment.”(Gansler).
In the end, hate speech truly only has the power to affect people in a negative way. The only people who are benefitting from this speech, are the ones who are actually saying it, and the ones who feel that it is a reasonable thing to do to portray weakness amongst others, while believing that they in fact hold all the power by doing so. Hate speech not only is hurtful, but goes a step beyond, to mentally destroy the people who are discriminated against. I will acknowledge, that this situation is nearly impossible to keep under control, but even making minor changes and impacts would help to rid of hate speech little by little. Hate speech should be a crime, should hold consequences for actions committed, and should be abolished.