Hate speech on digital platforms


As the digital sphere continues to expand, using online platforms to communicate with each other and share ideas has become the most common way to connect in the digital age. However, the perception that statements made on virtual online platforms do not have an inappropriate impact has resulted in the creation of a significant amount of hate speech on online platforms. Hate speech not only poses a significant challenge to the digital ecosystem but also has the potential to cause unpredictable social violence.

What is hate speech?

Hate speech has been defined as speech that “expresses, encourages, incites, or foments hatred against a group of people for a particular characteristic or set of characteristics”, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, and sexual orientation (Flew, 2021). Indeed, hate speech is a violent attack against a targeted group. Flew (2021) identifies three main characteristics of hate speech:

Targeting specific or easily identifiable individuals or even an arbitrary and normatively irrelevant feature group of people.

It implicitly or explicitly stigmatises the target group using qualities it finds objectionable.

The target group or individuals is perceived as hostile and cannot be trusted, posing a threat to the stability and well-being of society.

According to the above information, hate speech can be any word, gesture or behaviour threatening the dignity and well-being of the targeted group or individual. Hate speech can be understood as a perpetuation of the underlying inequalities in society and as a form of communication that transcends the boundaries of legitimate discourse.

(Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, n.d.)

Hate speech on digital platforms

The spread and development of hate speech are exacerbated when real-life incidents appear on digital platforms. For instance, the “Black Lives Matter” incident, which triggered a great deal of negative speech, led to a 250% increase in race-related hate speech after it was revealed on the Internet (Geddes, 2023). Online platforms have become a popular and significant medium for public expression, and the presence of the Internet has accelerated the fermentation of hate speech.

At the same time, it is not only incidents of marginalised groups or individuals that can lead to the spread of hate speech online, but cyber harassment is also one of the triggers of online hate speech.

Data shows that 41% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment, with more than half experiencing harassment for political reasons and the rest enduring online harassment because of their gender, race, or ethnic background (Flew, 2021). Most people are harassed because they are identified as having a specific characteristic or as existing in a particular marginalised group. The Gamergate incident, which occurred in 2014, does not doubt that even when harassment does not pose a serious and harmful problem, it goes hand in hand with the presence of hate speech. Gamergate is an online harassment campaign targeting women in the video game industry, and the campaign’s harassment tactics have included doxxing, threats of violence, etc (Romano, 2021). Victims of the campaign were initially subjected to verbal harassment and then escalated to hate speech and threats to their safety, harassment being the initial form of hate speech.

(Anti-GamerGate promotional artwork, 2015)

Negative impact of hate speech on digital platforms

Although hate speech is a highly contested concept, Waldron(2012) contends that hate speech is universally acknowledged as a form of harm that is comparable to more apparent physical harm. The harm caused to victims by hate speech, both offline and on online platforms, is undeniable. Still, the unique characteristics of online communication platforms may amplify the scale, scope, and longevity of the harm caused by online hate speech.

Dreißigacker et al. (2024) mentioned in the conclusion of their study, “We found that online hate speech affects insecurity, even outside of the Internet. ” The harm suffered by victims of hate speech attacks online can carry over into their offline lives, thus affecting their lives. For example, a person who has been negatively verbally attacked online due to their race will assume that those around them will verbally attack them in offline life. This is because the attack happens based on the user’s established racial identity rather than because he used an internet platform to post personal information. This phenomenon not only negatively affects the victim’s mental health and well-being, but it also limits the victim’s capacity and willingness to interact with others.

In addition, online hate speech has a profound effect on the platforms involved. Data show that between 42% and 67 % of youth have observed hateful and insulting words or speech online, and more than nearly half of all users agree that social platforms are falling prey to hate speech (Walther, 2022). A platform riddled with hate speech creates a strong sense of insecurity among users and leads them to believe that the platform’s system is less tolerant of social differences. Over time, hate speech can negatively impact a platform’s overall user experience by fostering a hostile climate that lowers user contentment and enjoyment.

Lastly, hate speech not only damages the victim’s mental health but also jeopardises their social equality (Curtis, 2024). Hate speech challenges the maintenance of equality and freedom in society as a whole and exacerbates the victimised group’s or individual’s sense of marginalisation.

Hate speech significantly affects individuals, digital platforms, and society.

What is the difference between freedom of expression and hate speech?

(Hate speech and Free Speech, 2019)

When it comes to hate speech, most people consider it to be an equal form of expression with free speech. Do hate speech and free speech share the same characteristics, then? If not, how do the two vary from one another?

According to Wikipedia, “Freedom of speech is the principle that supports the freedom of individuals or communities to express their opinions and ideas without fear of reprisal, censorship, or legal sanction.” (Freedom of Speech, 2024) There is already an insurmountable difference between freedom of speech and hate speech regarding the definition of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is no reference to the act’s potential to be insulting and harmful to a group or individual. Freedom of expression is a human right guaranteed by the constitutions of democratic states and society and is the freedom of the people to hold and express their own opinions.

RacismNoWay (n.d.) suggests that freedom of expression goes hand in hand with freedom from discrimination and other liberties, but it does not override them. The public had the right to express their ideas and opinions, but expressing personal views needed to be done with respect for others. Opposing hate speech also did not mean restricting the public’s freedom of expression but rather urging the public to talk with an understanding of differences and mutual respect. At the same time, hate speech does not offend or insult a person but dehumanises, suppresses and denies the human rights of a person or a group of persons (RacismNoWay, n.d.). To preserve a secure and stable online space and safeguard the rights of all citizens, communities and platforms ought to encourage people to uphold their right to free speech and to confront hate speech.

Who is responsible for hate speech?

The issue of who should bear the blame for hate speech has always been contentious, and this paper argues that hate speech should be the product of multiple parties sharing responsibility.

“If hate continues to exist, the first culprit is …… States that do not regulate media use . “(Cornelius, 2021). The state and the pertinent legislation it enacts serve as the first line of defence against the spreading of hate speech. For instance, in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand in 2019, the Government of New Zealand acted quickly to state incidents of hateful behaviour and urged the public to deal with hate speech appropriately (New Zealand Parliament, 2021). The response was a powerful demonstration of the Government’s commitment to combating hate speech and fostering a culture of inclusivity and tolerance. Even though the definition of hate speech and the laws vary from country to country, it is the responsibility of the Government to formulate, adopt, and implement laws and regulations that deal with hate speech on online platforms. Unfortunately, laws regulating hate speech are currently only adopted and used in some countries, while others are still in the process of developing their laws (Cornelius, 2021).

(A police officer patrols as Christchurch delegates and religious leaders wait to enter the Al Noor Mosque,2019)

Simultaneously, Cornelius (2021) also noted that media and technology have become increasingly influential and polarising in peacebuilding and conflict. Based on the unique nature of hate speech published on electronic platforms, platforms should have relevant user agreements and policies and vetting teams to maintain a safe and inclusive online environment for users. Generally, when a user registers for an online platform account, the platform should show them a User Agreement outlining the rules they must abide by while using the platform. This is done to safeguard users against offensive language and other actions.

Finally, individuals should be held directly responsible for the statements they make on the online platform. Everyone is a potential victim, regulator or replicator of hate speech, and we are always just a few words or clicks away (Cornelius, 2021). Users are responsible for abstaining from publishing and promoting hate speech when using electronic platforms to make statements. Additionally, users should abide by the terms of service of the social platform to personally eradicate hate speech with dignity, tolerance, and empathy.

How can hate speech on the internet be avoided?

Avoiding hate speech should explore the nature of the problem.

States should prioritise strengthening and advancing the implementation of laws pertaining to hate speech. More citizens, online platforms and organisations need to be adequately informed about the definition of hate speech and the need to work individually and collectively to eliminate it. Implementing the law is not only for individuals but also for each online platform. Online platforms should be responsible for dealing with hate speech by the content norms of legal treaties, such as the recommendations for Facebook mentioned by Sinpeng et al. in their article (2021):

Work with protected groups to identify common forms of expression of hate speech that disempower their targets and include them in censorship policies.

Improve the regulatory literacy of all page administrators by providing mandatory hate speech moderation training in critical languages.

Be open and transparent about all content regulation procedures, including penalties for violations and appeals processes.

The above recommendations do not encapsulate how platforms can eliminate hate speech. Simply put, online platforms can eliminate hate speech with a combination of artificial intelligence and human censorship. In order to maintain a fair and equitable approach to establishing a more inclusive, courteous, and safe online environment for users, additional measures must be put into place depending on the outcomes of this censorship.

Finally, individuals also play a crucial role in eliminating hate speech. According to the United Nations (n.d.) bulletin on how to deal with hate speech, “Even if you are not personally a victim of hate speech, there are many ways to take a stand and make a difference. ” In addition to taking control of their hate speech, every citizen can respond to platforms or regulatory organisations with information about hate speech that they have identified. The citizen also can support marginalised groups that are negatively targeted by hate speech wherever possible and even consider contributing to community organisations that fight hate speech. It is important to note that controlling hate speech does not mean citizens lose their right to freedom of expression but rather to express their ideas respectfully, equally and positively.

(UNDP Liberia, 2022)


In conclusion, hate speech is a form of expression that goes beyond the legitimate speech community to attack a targeted group or individual. Online platforms have become one of the biggest arenas for hate speech, and online hate speech not only affects the physical and psychological well-being of victims in real life but also has an irreversible impact on the platforms. However, counteracting hate speech does not mean controlling the public’s right to freedom of expression, and the public should express itself reasonably and respectfully. Although hate speech is not controlled currently, platforms, governments, and individuals all need to do their share to prevent it. Combating hate speech is an arduous and protracted endeavour.


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