According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), hate speech or intolerant should be understood as defending, promoting or inciting defamation, hatred or insult of an individual or a group of people. The Ministers’ Committee of the Council of Europe adds that hate speech consists of any form of expression that propagates, incites, promotes or justifies racist hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, immigrants and people of foreign origin. The term can be used to describe particularly abusive, even threatening behavior, as well as comments that are usually offensive.
Hate speech preserves this complicated relationship along with freedom of expression of speech and the idea of rights, as well as the concepts of dignity, freedom and equality. For this reason, its definition is often a challenge.
Going back to 1969 we can see one of the most principal times that people had troubles interpreting hate speech and confirming whether it’s dangerous or not. That was during the Brandenburg versus Ohio trial in 1969, when the US Supreme Court had to take a landmark decision. This case is about Clarence Brandenburg, a member of Ku Klux Clan, giving a speech full of anti-Semitic and anti-black statements, like “This is what we are going to do to the niggers,” “Save America,” “Bury the niggers,” “Freedom for the whites”, who got arrested and was charged for promoting violence. However, Brandenburg’s case got kind of huge and reached the Supreme Court of US, giving a hard time to the judges to decide whether his speech was dangerous or not. It, surely, was inappropriate. But was it really dangerous? After Brandenburg’s trial, First Amendment protects speech and the freedom of expression, unless it encourages immediate violence or other unlawful action [if you are interested in watching what happened with the Brandenburg versus Ohio case in 1969 in a brief way, click on the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRil228SIAU].
In national and international law, hate speech refers to expressions that support incitement to harm (in particular, discrimination, hostility, or violence) based on the identities of a particular social or demographic group. It may include -but is not limited to- speech that supports, threatens, or encourages violence.
Hate speech isn’t a “dangerous” act, meaning that it couldn’t harm physically the person that virtually or verbally attacks. However, there is a dangerous line which segregates hate speech and hate-motivated violence. There is a link connecting these two.
Brandenburg claimed during his speech that “the Jewish should go back to Israel and blacks should go back to Africa”. Well, that sentence means nothing, if nobody puts it into practice. It’s nothing but an “Absurd premise, a hyperbola” as Brandenburg’s lawyer described it. And he continues by saying that, “Indeed, the absurdity itself may mitigate against the clear and present danger”. Is it though? Is it truly mitigating the danger?
As the attorney points out, the main question against this absurdity is, “How else do you persuade some people to go back to Africa without violence?” [to read or listen to the whole trial that took place in Ohio, click here https://www.oyez.org/cases/1968/492].
Considering the example listed above, as well as taking daily examples of hate speech into consideration, it gets clear that through hate speech, hate rises into our society. That happens because hate speech is based on the unjustified assumption that a person or a group of persons are superior to others.
Back in the very early centuries, the ancient Greek rhetorics came up with the idea of freedom of expression and speech. Greek rhetorics and sophists were simple citizens, who were giving compelling and persuasive speeches to the rest of the town’s citizens, expressing their opinions on important political matters that had to do with the community, expecting their opinion to be accepted by the majority of the audience.
The freedom of speech is a human right that should belong to every human being since the ancient years. But what happens when people exploit this human right, pinching into other people, degrading and “dehumanizing” them? Based on what was written above, this act is so far not illegal, but is it dangerous? And eventually, who gets to decide if it’s dangerous or not?
The truth is that hate speech is indeed harmful for people, since it promotes hatred and threating behavor. However, the only certain thing here is that people should hear about it, recognize it, face it and combat it.
Katia Campbell, an associate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, being a member of a community scarred from hate speech herself, suggests certain solutions of how to start combating it; by challenging the intensely hostile voices of hate speech through our voices with solid logical arguments, through activism and through our vote, there will certainly be a change. With model civility and care, by listening and learning and through dialogic ethics we can make this great change to the world. Also, By educating our children, by talking to them about these things and teach them media literacy, combating hate speech may seem easier in the future.
In addition, Katia Campbell adds an interesting point to what we already know about hate speech; hate speech can also lead to “empowerment”. After her community and family had been victimized by hate speech, they now feel more strong and severe than ever; “We have our eyes wide open. We know what we face. […] We know, we must come together collectively and creatively to fight against this social injustice” [to watch Katia’s Campbell speech, follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xD6_Ma5vutw].
"Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of consequences or freedom from responsibly."
Here are some links of explaining the definition of hate speech and NGOs who fight against it.