Hate Speech and First Amendment

Social medial I believe has transformed the issue of free speech. This is certainly a controversial area to write about with strong feelings supporting unlimited free speech and the other side questioning such an approach. I am certainly not a Constitutional scholar nor even an attorney but I am aware that ‘hate speech’ is protected by the First Amendment as long as it isn’t “ direct, personal, truly threatening or violently provocative.

Which seems reasonable on its face until we ponder the power of social media. My real concern is that our Constitutional experts may not have foreseen the multiplier effect of social media in its ability to magnify and provoke the emotions of its viewers.

Hate and strong emotions have always been evil twins and provocative, exaggerated, stereotypes of groups can become ingrained into gullible readers as confirmed and documented truth. The more these slanderous and damaging tropes are repeated and more credible they seem to be. They become ‘truth’ by virtue of repetition and exaggeration.

We cannot deny the power of words and their ability to lead to action. Jihadists, right wing fascists, left wing progressives have mastered the use of social media to spread hatred and sow the seeds for real attacks and physical damage to individuals.

We need to revisit the relationship between social media and hate speech in the reality of 21st century existence. The consequences can be life threatening.

Who and how the censoring of hate speech occurs will clearly be challenging but the subject should not be dismissed as an issue of Free Speech alone.

S.E. Hodes

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