The evil cannot be ignored—Hate Speech

With the growth of self media platforms such as twitter and facebook, hate speech in all its forms has become increasingly prevalent and despite the regulatory policies in place on each platform, internet users are still being attacked with hate speech. Hate speech generally stems from a lack of accurate knowledge of the object of the hatred, resulting in subjective and bigoted statements about the target group. A prominent aspects of hate speech is misogyny, which, in addition to directly causing psychological harm, are also likely to cause actual physical harm through incitement to violence. Therefore, this blog will pave the way for the analysis of gender and racism in hate speech by defining hate speech and describing its harmfulness. Then, I will analyze the role of social media in hate speech and explain how social media and governments should better regulate and control hate speech. 

The definition of hate speech varies slightly from platform to platform and from literature to literature, but all agree that hate speech is hostile and malicious. It encourages and incites hatred through insulting language that causes harm, degrades and humiliates the target. One of its most important characteristics is that it is directed at a specific group of people, such as gender, race, religion and sexual orientation (Richardson‐Self, 2018). If a derogatory comment is made about an individual, such as “you’re ugly”, it can only be considered discriminatory and not hate speech. Hate speech has always had a significant impact on societies and individuals, and some governments have begun to introduce policies that address hate speech, but some countries, such as the United States, believe that such policies would exploit people’s right to freedom of expression. If hate speech is to be curbed while ensuring freedom of expression, we need to define the distinction between the two.

Freedom of speech is to allow people to freely express themselves and discuss with others under limited circumstances. It has moral constraints on people and would use polite and friendly language, and put both sides of the conversation on an equal footing. However, hate speech is not restricted by any rules and regulations, does not respect the human dignity of the target, and encourages and incites violence (Brown, 2019). Some people think that curbing hate speech will affect the democratic nature of freedom of speech, but democracy should not be based on policies that will harm the interests of some groups. If the government tolerates the oppression, insult and demeaning speech of the vulnerable groups by society, it is not true democracy and freedom of speech. Vulnerable groups are easily hurt by hate speech, but they can defend their rights through freedom of speech. So we should not conflate hate speech with free speech in order to protect controversial speech (Gender equality unit, 2016).

We all know that hate speech can be hurtful and insulting. Sinpeng et al (2021) claimed that the harm caused by hate speech can be divided into two aspects: causal harm and constitutional harm. Causal harms are those that result directly from the expression of hate speech. In this regard, hate speech will consistently export discriminatory ideas to the target group. And in extreme cases it can lead to actual violence against the target group. Constitutive injuries are those that originate from the spoken words themselves. It involves labeling members of the target group as inferior, oppressing them, and rationalize the discrimination against them. Society cannot protect hate speech also because it is sometimes devastating to minorities. Hatred can spread from person to person, and if allowed to develop it can lead to extremely vicious incidents, such as black Americans being shot by white police officers. Hate speech is oppressive. It denies the human rights and dignity of the target group and marginalizes them. The target group may suffer discrimination, abuse, and serious social and economic exclusion, which may threaten their survival. It also creates psychological stress on the target group, causing them to become anxious, fearful and angry. Teenagers are most easily affected by these speech, and their values are likely to be distorted. Hate speech can also destroy social peace and cause conflict (UN Women, 2022). Therefore, society must pay attention to timely curbing hate speech.

Gender is an important aspect of hate speech, and it is common for women to be degraded and humiliated on the Internet. According to a 2019 survey, political views, religion and gender were the top three reasons for hate speech online over a 12-month period, with women suffering 9% more than men from hate speech. Yet within this group, women aged 25-29 are more likely to encounter hate speech (esafetyCommissioner, 2019).

Table 3: Reasons for online hate speech in the 12 months to August 2019

Gender in hate speech is rooted in misogyny, and sexism is an internalised behaviour derived from misogyny. The gender problem in hate speech is rooted in misogyny, and sexism is an internalized behavior derived from misogyny. “Misogyny” comes from the oppression under the patriarchal society. Since the society has imposed many constraints on women from ancient times, women who do not conform to the norms set by men will be punished or criticized. So a woman with status or a feminist will be criticized more than the average woman. Female politicians are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer online harassment and threats, often in the form of cursing and insulting words and sentences (Phutpheng, 2021). When the American abortion rights activist Renee Bracey Sherman tweeted about women’s reproductive rights, she was abused by many users with vicious language. She would also speak out for black rights, and the abuse and violence she received only increased because of her association with sensitive racism (Amnesty International, 2022).

Words insulting women are everywhere on social media, while rarely are they criticized as being wrong. These words are different from “nigger”. Nowadays, the problem of racism about blacks has become a human consensus, and discriminatory remarks against blacks in public will automatically trigger group effect and be recognized as racial discrimination. But words or sentences associated with women are not considered sexist. This is because although derogatory language directed at women meets the conditions of inciting hatred, it has not caused large-scale violence for the time being. Different from racial issues, gender issues are mostly hidden, so it is difficult to meet the criteria of being classified as crimes (Weston-Scheuber, 2013). And because content about sexuality is considered the most degrading and demeaning thing about women in modern society, pornographic violence can also be seen as a form of hate speech against women, specifically in the form of defamation and distortion of women’s behaviour.

In January of this year, a 24-year-old girl named Linghua Zheng from Hangzhou of China, committed suicide after a six-month battle with depression. She became a victim of online violence because of her pink hair. In July 2022, Zheng posted a picture of herself and her bedridden grandfather on Douyin and Red Book. In the photo, she held her newly received graduate acceptance letter and shared the joy with her grandfather, who had raised her. But many people commented that the colour of her hair made her look like a prostitute, slandered her for sexual promiscuity, and even made rumours that the photo was of “an older man and his young wife” (Yee, 2023).

Hate speech is undoubtedly an extremely bad social phenomenon that prevents women from expressing their views freely, preventing them from working and living their lives properly and fearing for their safety. Every woman is a potential target of hate speech.

Zheng Linghua’s misery and suffering began on social media, which has already become a hotbed of hatred over the past decade. The growth of social media has indeed increased communication and strengthened connection, but it has also created opportunities for fake news and hate speech. Hate speech changes the subject of speech through social media. In the past, it was usually extremists or terrorists who could use the Internet to express hate speech. However, the opening of the digital age enables everyone to express their opinions online, which enhances the spread of hate speech and expands the scale of related groups. And social media can also expand the scope of hate speech attacks. And social media can broaden the attacking scope of hate speech. After the Internet became developed, the related issues of hate speech also began to increase. In the past, due to the slow dissemination of information, people might discuss more about politics and religion, but now it has extended to sexual orientation, gender, region and so on. Because people find that they can seek acceptance through social media, online anonymity also increases their aggressiveness and emboldens them to make nasty comments to strangers, a community atmosphere that encourages crime.

4chan, a notorious hate-speech site, started as a forum for ACG culture enthusiasts and has since evolved into a general topic site. However, one of the main characteristics of 4chan is that the posts are kept for a short time and disappear within a few days at most. Moreover, all users are anonymous, so they can speak freely without worrying about bringing trouble to themselves if they make bad comments. The excessively free atmosphere also leads to a lot of rumors and online violence (Dewey, 2014). 4chan used to organize a campaign against a female game developer named Zoe Quinn, accusing her of having sex with a number of game journalists in exchange for coverage. The campaign even spread on Twitter and Reddit, leaving Zoe constantly plagued by online violence, and she even received rape and death threats (Johnston, 2014).

Therefore, we can get that hate speech is dangerous for vulnerable groups and social platforms should be properly regulated, but this requires a two-pronged effort. As for social media itself, according to Sinpeng’s analysis about Facebook’s regulatory policy (2021), major social media outlets can use artificial intelligence for keyword detection and filtering. In order to improve detection accuracy, human moderation can be arranged in each country and region. And social media should improve their complaint management mechanisms and increase their efficiency in handling users’ reports and complaints to maintain a more harmonious online environment. More importantly, social media should engage with vulnerable groups in society to understand what hate speech really looks like to them, so as to better protect their interests. As for the governments, a flawed legal system emboldened users to incite violence with impunity. Social media will also be subject to government restrictions during operation, so the government should strengthen monitoring of social media platforms, establish an accountability mechanism, improve laws and policies on hate speech, and punish platforms that do not deal with hate speech in a timely manner.

Sinpeng et al (2021) argues that hate speech is a type of speech that requires policies to respond to the harm it causes, and that toxic content in it can cause harm to people in the long term, as evidenced by the cases of hate against women cited in the article, hate speech is so devastating to people that it must be regulated and controlled. We as citizens also need to keep urging the government and social media to focus on safeguarding the physical and mental health and rights of vulnerable people.


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Sinpeng, A., Martin, F., Gelber, K., & Shields, K. (2021). (rep.). Facebook: Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific (pp. 1–41). Sydney, NSW: Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney.

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