The internet was developed in the 1960s as a technique that government researchers could use to share information. Over the years it has evolved and is currently being used as a channel that a limited number of individuals could use to share information (Hösl, 2019). The evolution has resulted in numerous benefits and challenges. One of the greatest benefits which resulted from the invention of the internet is the creation of platforms that allowed people from different parts of the world to communicate on a real-time basis and increased freedom of speech. In 1996 John Perry Barlow passed a motion which is known as the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (Hösl, 2019). The Declaration stated that the internet is a space where individuals have freedom of speech and no government can impose any laws to regulate the said freedom of speech.
Social media which is considered to be a product of the internet has facilitated a further increase in the sharing of information on different platforms. Despite the positive effects associated with social media and other internet platforms one of the key shortcomings is the increase in the number of instances where hate speech is promulgated (Hösl, 2019). By analyzing different case studies, the paper will examine the key issues in the governance of the internet and internet cultures involving hate speech and provide possible solutions.
Definition of Hate Speech
Numerous organizations have provided definitions of what hate speech entails. Hate speech refers to statements that are made that put the peace and harmony of society in harm’s way by targeting a particular person or groups of persons from a particular race, religion, gender, or tribe (Mathew et al.,2020). The statements which are usually made can be in form of a speech or remarks which are discriminatory in relation to the target individual or group. Hate speech can be categorized as five key different acts.
- First, an insult is considered to be hate speech as the offender intentionally disrespects the victim using words that portray him or her in a negative light which might jeopardize the peace and harmony existing between the affected party (Vidgen et al.,2020)
- Second, discriminatory and demonizing remarks are considered to be a form of hate speech as they make the victim feel like they are less worthy than other members of society. Dehumanizing is another form of hate speech as it portrays the affected persons in a negative light which may convey that a particular individual is not worth basic human rights (Mathew et al.,2020).
- The final form of hate speech is the incitement of violent remarks which causes a particular group or person to feel targeted. In Australia, any form of hate speech is considered to be an offense by law.
Figure 1: Animated picture of hate speech
(Source: Teesta Setalvad, 2018 CJP)
The increased number of Internet users has resulted in the creation of a concept referred to as Internet culture. Internet culture can be defined as the unique set of beliefs, behaviors, and shared values that have been introduced due to the increased usage of digital technology and communicating online on different platforms such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Email, and social media platforms. The online culture is usually made up of individuals who have similar preferences such as online gaming, content creation, and viewing different content among other aspects. An individual can be affiliated with several cultures depending on their interests, needs, and preference for instance one can be an online gamer and at the same time a fierce activist. Thus, the changes in the ideas and the information being shared among individuals in the online community play a key role in the belief, point of view and interest its members have concerning a particular topic. The fact that the information being shared keeps changing based among the groups based on the social, political, and cultural aspects of the internet culture thereby shifts with the new changes.
The issue of hate speech prosecuting hate speech has been happening in Australia for a long time. However, online hate speech can be considered to be a relatively new concept as social media can be said to be relatively new. The number of social media and internet users in Australia has grown tremendously currently the number of internet users in Australia is 96.2% of the entire population. A large number of internet users means a big proportion of the population has access to social media. According to a survey conducted in 2019 by the eSurvey Commission, approximately 3,737 individuals were used as representatives of the Australian population to determine the level of awareness, attitude, and responses in relation to online hate speech (eSafety Commissioner,2020). The respondents describe hate speech on different online platforms as any negative comment which is directed at a particular individual. Before August 2019, approximately 14% of the respondents stated that they had been victims of online hate speech (eSafety Commissioner,2020). According to the respondents, the hate speech received was based on their gender, nationality, political views, sexual orientation, race, and even ethnicity.
Figure 2: Effect of hate speech on individuals
(Source: eSafety Commissioner,2020)
In the survey, it was identified that individuals who identified as LGBTQI or as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander experienced more hate speech at almost double the rate. The sample group stated that most of them experienced hate speech online from strangers whose purpose was to harass, humiliate or amuse themselves. Approximately 36% of the sample population took action by blocking the individuals who propagated the hate speech while the remaining proportion did not take any action against the individuals who directed hate speech at them (eSafety Commissioner,2020). However, it was noted that 58% of the individuals who did not take any action against the online hate they experienced suffered harm in their relationships, emotions, or reputation following the hate speech remarks directed at them.
One of the most widely publicized cases of hate speech which is experienced online in Australia involves Facebook and the Muslim community. Before the Muslim community took legal action against Facebook, it had for one year been in mediating talks with the managers of the online platform concerning the issue (Taylor, 2021). According to the Muslim community Facebook as an organization was making no effort to change its policy concerning encouraging hate speech against Muslims. According to the Muslim community, Facebook allowed pages to be set up by extremist groups which would state to be anti-Islam and post offensive comments concerning Muslims from Africa, Asia, and the middle east (Taylor, 2021). In the complaints, the anti-Islam groups did not target individuals who are Muslims but also attacked people based on racial stereotypes. According to the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network stated that the groups are a major factor that has facilitated the growth of right-wing extremism.
In its’ own defense Facebook argued that it has in place a policy which is aimed at reducing hate speech known as the hate speech policy. In the policy, Facebook does not allow other users to criticize or direct any form of hate speech to an individual or group of persons based on their religion, race, gender, or sexuality (Taylor, 2021). However, people have found a way around the hate speech policy as they do know that Facebook allows freedom of expression which may include criticizing an idea based on the characteristics or ideology (Taylor, 2021). Thus, the pages which criticize religion are allowed as they are expressing their opinion. In this instance, Facebook was not found guilty of encouraging hate speech as it presented compelling evidence (Taylor, 2021). However, as of March 2023, the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (Aman) won the motion where Twitter wanted the case lodged against them by Aman concerning the platform failing to take action against pages that incited hate speech (Gillespie, 2023). The motion presented by Aman was based on the fact that Twitter Australia and the corporation as a whole have to ensure it filters content that targets a particular person or group of people. Aman presented a post by a page known as the manifesto of a white supremacist and mass murderer which posted that the Qu’ran is a handbook for terrorists. The evidence presented included 419 items in total which were made up of 29 tweets and 390 comments (Gillespie, 2023). The motion was presented based on the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act which was developed to ensure all individuals in Australia are treated equally regardless of their race, gender, or religion.
Figure 3 Image presented by the Guardian concerning Muslims and Twitter
(Source: Gillespie, 2023)
Effects of Hate Speech
Hate speech results in numerous negative effects on society. First, it may result in individuals being incited to commit an act or acts of violence against a certain individual or group of people. Using the above example where the Q’uran was misrepresented whose main purpose was to spread lies, an individual who may have believed them would easily attack a group or any Muslim in an attempt to stop the spread of terrorism. Such an act will be considered to be a criminal act that will land the accused in prison and may harm the affected individual(s). This will create tension and a lack of harmony in society. Secondly, in the case where the hate speech is targeted at a specific individual, it may result in negative effects being experienced such as psychological issues such as depression. This usually occurs in the instance where the claims made were meant to dehumanize the individual in question. The affected party may have a hard time recovering depending on their mental state as the remarks may have harmed their reputation. Finally, hate speech may reinforce the negative stereotypes individuals hold against a certain race or group of individuals based on these remarks. In most instances, stereotypes are usually beliefs that individuals who are not part of a particular group assume to be true based on their analysis. In some instances, the stereotypes may be true but, in most instances, the negative stereotypes are usually aimed at lowering the self-worth or self-esteem of the group of individuals in question. Thus, hate speech that is propagated online needs to be dealt with to ensure people in society treat each other with respect.
Figure 4: Increased hate speech causing increased hate crimes
Techniques to Combat Hate Speech
Hate speech as an act has significantly corrosive effects on society and individual levels. However, hate speech can be managed through various avenues.
- First, the regulation of social media can be used as an avenue to control hate speech. The Australian government can be able to control the content being viewed by Australians by ensuring the social media platforms available in the country comply with the laws put in place especially those in relation to discrimination. The government can adopt the use of online censorship where certain content cannot be shared. In the case where a group or individual experiences hate speech on any of the social media platforms, the government can help them to collect additional evidence from the experts. Such a move will filter the content the Australian population feeds on needs to be balanced to ensure it does not interfere with the freedom of expression and information. However, by adopting this move Australia will be able to regulate the internet culture present in the country.
- The second technique which needs to be adopted is increasing the level of digital literacy in the country. The digital literacy which needs to be examined here involves educating the public on pages or platforms from which authentic news can be obtained, how to detect fake news, and how to report pages spreading hate speech or fake news. The move will be advantageous for the country as a large proportion of its population used the Internet and different communication platforms. The implementation of the measure will help the public to easily detect fake news which may cause incitement or criticism of a particular group of individuals. Citizens learning how to report fake news pages will also help to reduce the number of avenues individuals who have the intention of spreading fake content can use.
The digital platform has a large number of users who hold different beliefs, values, and intentions. Some users work hard to ensure they spread messages of peace and harmony to ensure the society they create is conducive to living in. However, certain individuals’ intention is aimed at spiting other people using lies to paint them in a negative light. The digital sphere in an avenue which provides different individuals with an avenue to hide behind their screens and type comments without knowing the effects their words may have on other people. Thus, by implementing the techniques stated to combat hate speech the Australian online community will become more conducive for its’ users.
eSafety Commissioner. (2020). Online hate speech. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.esafety.gov.au/research/online-hate-speech
Gillespie, E. (2023, March 25). Twitter loses bid to throw out complaint by Australian Muslim group over ‘hateful’ content. The Guardian. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/mar/26/twitter-loses-bid-to-throw-out-complaint-by-australian-muslim-group-over-hateful-content#:~:text=Twitter%20has%20lost%20a%20bid,Commission%20(QHRC)%20last%20June.
Hösl, M. (2019). Semantics of the internet: a political history. Internet Histories, 3(3-4), 275-292.
Mathew, B., Illendula, A., Saha, P., Sarkar, S., Goyal, P., & Mukherjee, A. (2020). Hate begets hate: A temporal study of hate speech. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 4(CSCW2), 1-24.
Taylor, J. (2021, April 21). Facebook accused of not removing hate speech in complaint under Australia’s racial discrimination laws. The Guardian. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/apr/22/facebook-accused-of-not-removing-hate-speech-in-complaint-under-australias-racial-discrimination-laws
Vidgen, B., & Yasseri, T. (2020). Detecting weak and strong Islamophobic hate speech on social media. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 17(1), 66-78.