Debate 2: ‘Hate speech is more than free speech,’
  • Opens Thursday 17 October 18:00-20:00 (CET)
    Moderators: Neringa Tumenaite (Lithuania), Gubaz Koberidze (Georgia)
    A right to express one's mind is an essential human right on the basis of Free Speech, which we all cherish and value. Public debates, regardless of the sensitivity of the topic, have been a vital driving force behind the process of democratisation, and helped Free Speech to establish itself as an important aspect of public realm. However, there has been a seemingly blurred line between the words used to initiate discussion and the ones used to incite hatred. The phenomenon of mobilising the crowd for violent action by expressing open hostility towards targeted groups has been widely exploited by people in positions to be heard. Our discussion will focus on two cases: Georgian Orthodox priests in the middle of demonstartion explaining about the sinister ways of the gays to an angry mob and English Defence League using social media to voice the opinion why Islam has no place in Great Britain. Are these examples of exercising Free Speech or inciting hatred: how to recognise the difference and what can be done about it? You can also bring your own examples into the debate.
  • Well, regarding the mentioned examples, I do think this is a Hate Speech. Here I would like to point out the example of English Defence League: a far-right street protest movement which opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism. Their (ex) leaders have always been balancing between radical views and hate speech: “English girls in Sheffield are being groomed and raped… by members of the Islamic community”, “We don’t want any more mosques in this country”. Which, although harsh, could could be considered as merely expressing one’s opinion.

    However, this sort of rhetoric coming from leaders and authorities especially tends to influence more radical views of their followers: E.g. In EDL’s demo in Stoke, interviewed woman claimed: “They [British soldiers] go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere. But to be honest it is the niggers I can't stand”. I think this could definitely be called incitement of hatred.

    What take do to others have on this?
  • I agree that both examples refer to hate speech.

    I think it important to bring attention to 'who' the targets of the speech are. Where can those targeted be located? Are they the rich, privileged, dominant and powerful, or poor, lacking in status, oppressed and disempowered? This is not to suggest that when you speak of people belonging to the first group you should disregard all empathy, but it is often a potent indicator that something is hate speech when those attacked are already marginalised and oppressed people!
  • As you say Neringa, the use of 'stories' and emotionally driven statements is used to exploit people's feelings and judgement in order to 'justify' the fascism that underlies what is said.
  • Most of people would not say those words in front of the people concerned...
  • That's an interesting point, CM. So the context has importance too, in this case, the audience. This is a particularly significant issue when considering online hate speech, as once something is posted on social media, for example, it is possible for it to be viewed by anyone with access.
  • Yes, I also think that they would not say it in front of them, but also probably if they had any (previous) close contact. I think it's usually a vicious circle: alienation fosters alienation.

    Steven, regarding your second point, I think it's a great insight, which is also connected to human psychology. Also, I've heard researchers talking how constantly repeating one message (however radical it appears) eventually makes people comfortable with it.
  • Neringa: "I think it's usually a vicious circle: alienation fosters alienation."

    Awesome. I'm going to use that myself!

    And yes, this 'normalising' effect is a real danger.

    What can really help things become normalised is a lack of encouragement to question and think critically. There is a real move to remove these elements of actively questioning things in the education systems and certainly more broadly in society. This allows for hateful ideas to manifest more easily and to slide into common discourse much more easily.
  • Ha! I am happy you thought that was an interesting thought :)

    I definitely agree with you mentioning the importance of educational system(s), Rather unfortunate that requires such a long time to alter even a bit. But I guess the outcomes would are completely worth it!
  • Hello all,

    I think there is no question that in the two examples hate speech was used. I think the real debate starts when we are to evaluate what should be the consequences on those who have perpetrated hate speech in this cases and the reaction from different actors?
    Is there the case for legal action against the priests in Georgia? If yes, then why?
    Is there the case for the quoted example of the woman. If that's all that she said, I'd argue no.

    On other raised points here: what is the actual value/implication of 'the fact' (unproven) that 'most people would not say this when face to face with the target'? I actually think they would, and they do. Perhaps not always directly calling for violence against, but enough to change the power dynamic. If I loudly say everywhere i go 'all members of a certain group are not humans and should be treated accordingly' and there's no, then I leave little chance for members of that group to actually express their identity. That to me is just as much face to face ...

    to start with :-)
  • I agree with the opinion that it refers to hate speech.

    For the Georgian case I wanted to find video with English subtitles but unfortunately didn't manage to find it. but I have translated small dialogue between women and journalist:

    Question: What do you think about IDAHO campaign in Georgia, should be it banned or not?
    and she answered: I think that LGBT people are people and they have right to express and fight for their rights, but if patriarch and church wants it to be banned I agree with patriarch. So it should be banned!

    So as religion has really big influence on people, priests started demonstration in 16th of May evening, So they were shouting that they were praying for LGBT people, also they were shouting that LGBT people need treatment and pray for recovery.

    and about Ruxandra's point there was "legal action" against priests in Georgia but... problem is thet religion has influence on everything on people on police and... So they were judged but only formally! They had domestic penalty for 2 weeks and that's all...
  • Sorry for the link, this photo is taken on the main street of Tbilisi
  • As far as defining or punishing hate speech goes, I'm inclined to go with the "clear and present danger" test established by the US Supreme Court in the case "Schenk v. United States." Simply put, I think that it constitutes hate speech if the speech in question could clearly cause danger to those it is directed against. So, in the examples above, the Georgian priests would be guilty of hate speech, while the English Defense League would not. Why? Because priests are influential and respected members of the community, and their words could in fact incite violence. The English Defense League is not in the same position. Essentially, it is about the power/influence held by the speaker. There is a difference between an "everyday man" and a leader in the community or someone else with actual power and/or influence.

    EDIT: Actually, "Brandenburg v. Ohio" is probably more relevant than "Schenk v. United States", although the former does build off of the latter.

  • And this video is about priest who has chair in his hands and swearing against LGBT people
  • Hi Ruxandra. I agree that in the first case legal action would make sense and that in the second it doesn't. However, legal action for me is problematic. In the case mentioned I would advocate legal action, among other options, but in other cases I would not, simply because the legal system is inherently biased against many groups and people, particularly those without financial and time-based capacity to take things to court. In this sense what I'm saying is that, for me, the legal route is only suitable in some cases but for a more holistic approach we need more responses.

    You make a strong point about whether people say things directly or not. Different people do different things, yet they can be equally damaging. Good call.
  • Thanks for a new point, Nolan! Definitely agree that a lot should depend on the political status of the speaker so to say.

    But what if, for example, one is very charismatic, outspoken and has a platform to spread hatred, yet no 'official authority' status, would that count? Because maybe the outcomes could be exactly the same.
  • could you please tell em about that discussion?
  • Steven you agree with the opinion that legal action would make sense but now in Georgia is situation that legal actions doesn't make sense in case of priests from Georgia

  • One more video about 17th May in Georgia...
  • "Outspoken and charismatic" don't matter very much within the boundaries of the law, but "platform to spread hatred" definitely could count. For example, if the US commentator Rush Limbaugh, who has no official power but does have a syndicated program on a major US news network, were to advocate violence against LGBTs or minorities then by all means would legal action be appropriate, in my opinion - as people might actually listen. So, I would consider celebrities/major public personalities in the same boat as those with actual power.

    Of course, hate speech also has to be carefully defined. To refer back to "Brandenburg v. Ohio", the court officially ruled that: "... the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
  • I believe that there should be set some international laws that would determine some guidelines regarding the topic what is hate speech and what is freedom of word. The work group should be initiated in United Nations and most countries could deliberate and agree on a text of a Convention. Until this happens every country is free to decide what is ''good'' thing to say and what is ''bad'' thing to say and we can do nothing about that.
  • International laws would be great but for example we don't have law in Georgia about hate speech but we have law about hate crime and in 17th of May everything started with hate speech and finished with hate crime but what was result? domestic penalty...

    So I think that if this laws must be for everyone for every persons and also for church representatives of course
  • But it will implemt discussion, which after form a part of dialogue in a long term for new implementations for this problem
  • Nolan, definitely agree with the point that power comes in all forms, not necessarily by official authority. Yet I wonder..let's say a random citizen with no ''influence power'' stands in the middle of the street quoting racist slurs or shouting that 'immigrants should go home', I think this should be not tolerated by the law either. Also, the terms like 'incitement' and 'influence' are rather hard to define - even one 'shouting (wo)man' could actually contribute to the racist discourse if they continue doing that. Because eventually everyone would get used to the fact that this sort of behavior is 'an ok'.

    Gubaz, do you know if they are planning to introduce laws covering hate speech as well?
  • But if this behaviuor will influnce change for new discussion, doesnt matter if it s good or bad ?
  • Zoja Po Krumais, I think that would be a very nice idea. The biggest challenge is that with all of the historic-cultural-economic differences among the countries of the world finding a common ground is a big task, don't you think?
  • Neringa actually I am not sure but as I know they are not planning in near future
  • Vaiva, if you mean that all opinions should be heard and discussed, I also definitely agree with you :) I guess the problem arises when one expresses opinion in such a way that invites other people to, for example, take violent action against a minority. Or would you say that generally the freedom of speech should be applied in 100% of examples?

    Gubaz, in Lithuania it also seems like the longest working progress ever..
  • what is exact topic
  • Nouman, we are discussing whether people should be able to say anything they want because 'it is free speech' or if there is a particular type of speech - hate speech - which should not be tolerated.

    For example, if it is attacking vulnerable groups, is racist, invites for violence..
  • Brindusa-Katalin Poenaru just wanted to comment but there is problem with registration on the platform. So I decided to write here Brindusa-Katalin Poenaru's opinion:

    Hate speech coming from respected authorities like priests have a great influence on people all over the world. They might not take immediate action against those who are depicted as evil or dangerous by the priests but as concerning the LGBTQ community, they are targeted for more than 2000 years by the churches and they already have a solid basis to build on and preserve the hatred and mistrust against this minority.

    So Curch authorities are some of the most influebtial members of society and they should be held responsible for what they are preaching in and out of their churches.

    Thanks to Brindusa-Katalin Poenaru for the interest to participate in the discussion
  • Well Neringa, in the scenario described, we have another legal way of dealing with that, at least in the US we did (not sure about Germany - still learning the law here!) . It's called "disturbing the peace" and is a misdemeanor. Because the right to free speech is sacred, even if it is negative. The problem with charging random racists with hate speech is that it sets a horrible precedent; namely, that one can be taken to jail for an opinion. The fact is, in a lot of the world (or at least Europe and North America - I can't speak about the other continents/regions with any experience) a person shouting on a street corner typically does not wield any influence; they are usually treated as nuisances and people you should avoid making eye contact with, not reasonable people with reasonable ideas. Coming from a location with LOTS of "street corner preachers," I can tell you first hand that when someone starts yelling or saying crazy things in public, everyone else gives them a WIDE berth.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that I would consider "hate speech" by an average person in public to be at most a misdemeanor, punishable by removal from the premises and possibly a fine. And of course, ostracization of the individual in question by the public also works wonders. People don't like not being taken seriously.
  • Neringa,
    I believe that some universal standards could be introduced while taking into account cultural things. Lets dont forget that universal declaration of human rights was addopted only a few dacades, in 1948, which claims peoples right to life, abolishes slavery and other misdeeds. I believe that nowadays noone doubts the importance of this documents. the regulation of freedom of speech and hate speech could be a step forward.
  • Zoja that is a very nicely put point. I totally agree...and until that time we educate, fights, explain, and act.... we do not know how much time and what events are needed to get there.
  • What Nolan Rivkin says is a very good point and I have often found this kind of reaction via FB: "It's my opinion and I'm entitled to it!" Well, I agree that everybody is entitled to an opinion yet when you come out in public with your opinion , you should moderate it. Because not all the opinions are right just because they are expressed. Maybe the law can punish those who use a very clear hate speech, but it is the society that has to be educated and taught to take action against ....misdemeanor. It will take some time but the existence of such forums like this one is a hope for the future.
  • Zoja, great opinion! I totally agree too! in this case main point is that everything started with universal declaration of human rights and as you told we can step forward! Actually we will need time but most important is to make first steps ahead
  • These are actually all really valid points and very valuable contributions. If anything, we can probably all agree that there are always many different points to consider, and although the live discussion in this forum finishes now, it will continue in the real life.

    Thank you all for the great discussion, we are leaving the forum open until the end of the week. Also, you are welcome to join our third debate 'Start from your backyard'. Opens Saturday 19 October 15:00-17:00 (CET)

    Have a nice evening! :)
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