Hate speech: A misused freedom | 31st October, 2020

What is hate speech? 

The term hate speech is understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of their collective identity, be it race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexuality.

Hate speech threatens two key doctrines of democracy-

  • The guarantee of equal dignity to all
  • The public good of inclusiveness.

Criteria to identify hate speech:

  1. The extremity of the speech.
  2. Incitement
  3. Status of the author of the speech.
  4. Status of victims of the speech.
  5. Potentiality of the speech.
  6. Context of the Speech.

Regulation of Hate speech in India

  • Constitutional provisions: Article 19(2) of the Constitution gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but subject to “reasonable restrictions” for preserving inter alia “public order, decency or morality”.
  • Statutory provisions:   India prohibits hate speech by several sections such as Section 95 of CRPC Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.

Various Causes of hate speech-

  1. Historical underpinnings- Any historical enmity between various religious or societal groups can motivate them to do hate crimes. During the independence struggle, both communities were divided which still has an impact. For example; the divide and rule policy.
  2. Vote bank politics: Often vote bank politics, use various communal or emotional tools to garner the vote of few groups by inciting hatred in them. They use false stories, news, etc to incite such incidents.
  3. Acceptance of hate by society: Sometimes society, in general, accepts hatred against a particular group or nation based on past experience of atrocities. E.g many groups see refugees or migrated people as their enemies and islamophobia in European countries.
  4. Illiteracy-Lack of education prevents the overall development of an individual. Still, about 23% of the population in India is illiterate. This prevents the development of tolerance and understanding of individuality in them.
  5. Consensus in society: Increasing unemployment lead to the development of feeling of hatred against a particular group especially refugees and migrated one. People see them as an enemy and one who snatches their rights. This phenomenon is worldwide. For eg, thousands of people of the northeast living in Bangalore headed to Guwahati, following rumors of violence targeting them.
  6. Prejudice and bias-Bias toward a particular group can be a reason for hate crimes. E.g 704 cases of crimes against Northeast people in Delhi in 3 years. It can incite hate crime against them without making any difference between culprit and innocent.
  7. Patriarchy-This hold true mainly in case of hate crime against women. Honour killing of women is mainly due to patriarchal mindset where women are attached to one’s falsified honour and women seen as an object tied to family respect.
    • For instance, in 2010 when Nirupama, a student of journalism, was killed by her family members in Jharkhand for planning to marry her boyfriend from another caste.
  8. Lack of strong laws-lack of strong and clear laws, poor implementation results in low conviction rate. So, culprits are let to roam freely.
  9. Social media: Fake news, propagandais often invoked on social media against a particular group to destabilise a society. For example, Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013.

Challenges in regulating hate speech

  • Freedom to speech-Any regulations for social media content should follow globally accepted norms of freedom of speech and impartiality which is hard to apply with the restrictions on the content.
  • Independent Regulator– An independent regulator can be misused in geographies where the idea of impartiality is used to the wish of the ruling regimes.
Social Media & hate speech

Impact of social media: Social media spreads messages way faster than other forms of mass media.

  • Nearly 60,000 posts are shared on Facebook in just one second across the globe.
  • Nearly 8,00,000 messages are sent in just one second across WhatsApp.
  • Almost 70,000 searches are made on Google in just one second.

How social media aids hate speech?

  • Unregulated Information sharing on platform– As exposed in a report by an international media organisation, Facebook is symptomatic of a larger infection of unregulated information dissemination through social media.
  • Hate speech against Rohingya minorities– A Reuters investigation found that Facebook didn’t appropriately moderate hate speech and genocide calls against Myanmar’s Rohingya minorities.
  • Prioritise business interest over common good– It is even accused of conducting a psychological experiment on its user’s emotions and more aspect of their personality.   For example, Recently Facebook was accused of conducting a psychological experiment on its user’s emotions and more aspect of their personality.
  • Insensible approach– Google has been accused of delaying the removal of malicious content even after volunteer groups had reported it.
  • Privacy Regulation– The introduction of privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General data protection regulation (GDPR) signaled the fact that self- regulations of the platforms didn’t work in the desired way.

Way forward 

  • Code of conduct: the European Union has also established a code of conduct to ensure non-proliferation of hate speech under the framework of a ‘digital single market.’It requires collaborative, independent and inclusive regulation that is customised to regional and cultural specifications while adhering to global best practices of content moderation and privacy rights.
  • The Law Commission of India recommended that new provisions in IPC are required to be incorporated to address the issue of hate speech.
  • Punitive action: The legislature and political parties should suspend or dismiss members who are implicated in hate crimes or practise hate speech. Strict disciplinary act should be taken against such individuals and parties.
  • The electronic and print media should stop showing or publishing hateful comments and threats. Any act of incitement of hatred should be punished by cancelling license or through imprisonment or fine.
  • Imbibing values: Values of tolerance and respect that are common to all religions should be preached and schools should revitalise courses on the directive principles of our Constitution.
  • If the speech or statement or art of work have an element of incitement of hate, it should be treated as a hate speech under section 153(a) of IPC and not as a Blasphemy.
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