by Rick Bretz
During the congressional hearings on Facebook management responsibilities concerning data, one of the questions to CEO Mark Zuckerberg was “What is hate speech?” Zuckerberg hesitated for a moment and the congressmen interjected, “I can tell you what it isn’t, hate speech is not something you disagree with.”
[Amendment I.] Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The congressman wanted to drill down on the accusation that Facebook selectively let liberal political viewpoints get through their algorithms designed to block hate speech and bullying type posts and but also block conservative slanted articles. .
Who knows how their code is written and what type of firewall configurations they use? The more interesting part of the exchange was “What is the clear definition of hate speech?” Do you know it when you see it and is it actual hate speech?
The representative had a point but he wasn’t completely right because most people also disagree with certain forms of hate speech. Hate speech can have a general definition but the details concisely and clearly defined. As Mark Zuckerberg testified at his hearing, “Details matter.”
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The Supreme Court defined it this way in 1942. In the case of Beauharnais v. Illinois , Justice Frank Murphy explained where free speech can be judged as outside the accepted normal speech. These instances include, “lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words — those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”
All hate speech and free speech does not fall into the verbal or written bucket. Hate speech can also be an act or symbol such as a burning cross on a yard. It is noteworthy the Supreme Court has sided with the defendants or refused to hear the cases over such hateful acts as Nazi marches and a cross burning on yard.
Adolf Hitler’s escalation of the subtle hatred to the blatant gave him time to build his military and economy before waging war with Europe, Eastern Europe, Britain and its commonwealth, Africa and the Soviet Union.
From Adolf Hitler’s speech in 1937, given on January 30th, the anniversary of the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, nuried deep within the pages of the text comes this, “.…the failure to recognize the importance of conserving the blood and the race free from inter-mixture and thereby the racial aspect and character which are God’s gift and God’s handiwork. It is not for men to discuss the question of why Providence created different races, but rather to recognize the fact that it punishes those who disregard its work of creation.
And further along this, “…so the blood-and-race doctrine of the National Socialist Movement will bring about a revolutionary change in our knowledge and therewith a radical reconstruction of the picture which human history gives us of the past and will also change the course of that history in the future.”
He was talking about the Jewish communities and culture and also was warning everyone who paid attention that his words would be followed by action.
This passage is notable because of his words after 1940 when giving speeches. These words were spoken later during World War II, speaking to a crowd at the Sports Palace in Berlin, January 30 1942, “And we say that the war will not end as the Jews imagine it will, namely with the uprooting of the Aryans, but the result of this war will be the complete annihilation of the Jews.”
Hitler’s party and propaganda ministry later published a pamphlet with the offensive title, “The Jew as a World Parasite” in 1944 for “educational” purposes.
Hate speech in America could be just as vile when referring to races, gender and sexual orientation from groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations. Hate speech can be and often is protected by the First Amendment.
Freedom of speech ceases to be protected when it incites violence against people resulting in injury or death. The crossing of the line should be recognized when it initially occurs.
Recognizing hate turning into violence several years later as in the case of Germany and the holocaust, or in the case of way the United States treated the Indian Nations in the 1800s can be disastrous for a whole section of society. Issues remain concerning the Trail of Tears episode and President Andrew Jackson’s decision. Many countries have their records that force their citizens to hang their heads in shame when reading the pages of history. The British have theirs, and so do the Russians, Australians and the Japanese.
What is important is that leaders and citizens learn from it so the world will be a better place. It’s a constant struggle as we all can see when turning toward the Middle East or more recently when looking back at the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Facebook is confronting tough questions about what is permitted on their social network as well as what they do with their data metrics. Discerning real hate speech from different viewpoints is an issue that must be resolved so bad actors don’t have a platform for recruitment. These are questions that should answers by getting all of the right people in a room.
Some people talk or post and then go back to their cave. Some people talk and then they turn it into action. These are the people we all have to guard against and prevent them from carrying out a plan that could maim or kill innocent people.