The New Zealand shooting that took place on the 15th of March rekindled the already hot debate relating to the regulation of social media to curb hate speech. Detecting hate speech and differentiating it from free speech however can be a challenge. The existing laws guarantee people the right to free speech where an individual can freely express his thoughts. In some cases, these thoughts may be intended to incite or to advocate for extremist views. The line between free speech and hate speech is a blurred one and at times hard to differentiate between the two (Ganesh). Social media companies such as Facebook may find themselves at crossroads in their attempt to promote freedom of speech while at the same time trying to curb hate speech. To address this problem, the government policy makers should collaborate with the industry players and come up with a practical approach to this problem (Ardito).
Hate speech refers to any form of expression that is aimed at promoting hatred against a specific group within a community (Juhan). Hate speech also aims at promoting discrimination, violence, inciting as well as justifying hatred against a person or a group of persons for a number of reasons. Hate speech can be delivered in several forms such as spoken words, written words, gestures as well as videos (Traum). Some of the reasons why hate speech takes place include political intolerance, religious differences, racial discrimination nation of origin, sexual orientation, gender, disability, ethnicity among many other reasons. In the case of the New Zealand shooting, the shooter was opposed to the immigrants in the country (BBC). Prior to the attack, he had sent Facebook messages indicating his displeasure with the immigrants in the country (Cave). He also praised other shooters who had conducted mass killings of the same nature. The attacker also live streamed the attack on Facebook in an effort to show to the world what he had done.
History and Background of the Problem
The invention of the internet brought about some changes that were unprecedented in the manner in which information was communicated and journalism and media industry. Before the age of the internet, it was relatively easy for content to be monitored and ensure that only the appropriate content reached the consumers. In case of print media, there were and still there are editors who are supposed to scrutinize the content and determine their appropriateness (Sorial). In this way it is possible for any content that may promote hate to be removed before being printed. It was also possible to censure the content for radio and television by first previewing the programs before they can be aired. Interviews and discussions that were made in these media outlets were highly regulated in terms of the content as well as the points of view of the participants. As such, it was possible to ensure that hat speech messages were not communicated through these media. With the advent o the interned and later the social media such as Facebook, everyone became a source of information. Anyone could generate content and post it in the social media for others to read and share (Lepoutre). One major challenge that is associated with the social media is regulation. With millions and millions of possible sources of information it is practically impossible to regulate what one can post in the social media.
The increasing abuse of social media by its users especially to perpetrate hate speech has prompted calls for more regulations to be put in a bid to curb the practice. Government officials have been thinking of ways in which they can curb this practice through legislation. Many proposals have been brought forward but most of them face issues of impracticality in their implementation due to many technicalities revolving around free speech and the legality of denying people the opportunity to express themselves. The politicians who have delved into this issue are taking a political perspective by trying to impose populist laws that will make them popular to the people they represent. However, they have little expert information on how their actions can affect the social media industry as a whole. There are likely indications that Senators will support social media regulation bill once it is presented in Congress. Mark Warner, who is a member of Senate Intelligence Committee, put it this way: “Depending on how we framed it, I think we’d have an overwhelming majority,” (Adage White Papers). In this case, he is referring to the bill on regulating the social media. The views of those who feel that social media should be regulated are centered on finding a political and legal solution to the problem.
The second group in this argument holds the views that social media should not be regulated. This group is cognizant of the fact that it is impractical to regulate social media and that any attempts to restrict it can result in overreaction amongst industry players. The laws that are likely to be put in place can be very punitive to the extent that these companies can put so many regulations in a bid to avoid these fines. Such regulations can affect the manner in which people interact and can raise issues relating to restricting people from free speech. This group holds the views that social media companies should be left to regulate themselves. This however does not mean that the government should completely detach itself from social media regulation. It simply means that should give these companies space to regulate their businesses. Paul Berrets, who is an expert in digital trends, puts it this way: The problem with turning to the government to regulate more aggressively is that it could easily… result in an overreaction by the companies (Armstrong). The general feeling of those who oppose government regulation is that the industry can effectively regulate itself without risking the adverse effects that are associated with government regulations.
Proposition of Policy
There is need for a policy that looks into both sides of the divide to be formulated. Social media companies have shown their willingness to address the problem of hate speech by investing in technologies that enables them to detect these messages and pull them down before they can be viewed by any user. These technologies have been very effecting and have resulted into hundreds of millions of hate messages being pulled down. Some of these technologies are more than 99% effective in detecting and pulling down these messages. The government should collaborate with social media companies in this war by helping in advanced research on technologies that can help in detecting these messages with even higher accuracy rates and pulling them down. The governments should also help the social media companies by providing them with names of people who should not be allowed to own social media accounts. Such information can be sought through government intelligence.
The regulation of social media is an issue that needs to be handled with a lot of soberness by considering the dynamics in this industry. The challenges that face implementation of regulations should be looked at by both the government and industry players with the aim of coming up with a common strategy on how to address the problem. Social media companies have shown willingness to fight hate speech by investing in technology that helps in detecting and screening messages. The government should complement these efforts by helping these companies to be more effective in their detection as opposed to formulating laws that will affect the operations of these companies by making the operating environment unfriendly.
Armstrong Martin. Governments are stepping in to regulate social media, but there may be a better way, Online resource, retrieved on 23rd April 2019 from https://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/social-network-should-governments-moderate/
Adage White Papers. Congress likely to Support new Regulations on Social Media: Senator Says Online resource, retrieved on 23rd April 2019 from https://adage.com/article/digital/congress-support-regulations-social-media-senator/314928
BBC, New Zealand mosque shooting: What is known about the suspect? Online resource, retrieved on 23rd April 2019 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47579243
Cave, Damien. New Zealand Shooting Suspect Is Charged With 50 Counts of Murder, Online resource, retrieved on 23rd April 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/03/world/asia/new-zealand-christchurch-shooting-charged.html
Ardito, Alissa. “Social Media, Administrative Agencies, and The First Amendment.” Administrative Law Review, vol. 65, no. 2, 2013, pp. 301–386.
Ganesh, Bharath. “The Ungovernability Of Digital Hate Culture.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 71, no. 2, 2018, pp. 30–49.
Juhan, S. Cagle. “Free Speech, Hate Speech, And The Hostile Speech Environment.” Virginia Law Review, vol. 98, no. 7, 2012, pp. 1577–1619.
Lepoutre, Maxime. “Hate Speech in Public Discourse: A Pessimistic Defense of Counterspeech.” Social Theory and Practice, vol. 43, no. 4, 2017, pp. 851–883.
Sorial, Sarah. “Hate Speech and Distorted Communication: Rethinking the Limits of Incitement.” Law and Philosophy, vol. 34, no. 3, 2015, pp. 299–324.
Traum, Alexander. “Contextualising the Hate Speech Debate: the United States and South Africa.” The Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa, vol. 47, no. 1, 2014, pp. 64–88.