Stop outsourcing the regulation of hate speech to social media

Stop outsourcing the regulation of hate speech to social media
Regulating hate speech on the internet should not be left to private corporations. Credit: Shutterstock

When it comes to dealing with online hate speech, we've ended up in the worst of all possible worlds.

On the one hand, you have platforms like Facebook and Twitter that seem extremely reluctant to ban white supremacists and actual neo-Nazis, but enthusiastically enforce their own capricious terms of service to keep adults safe from such harmful things as the female nipple. That is, until something horrific happens, such as the Christchurch massacre, when they decide —after the fact —that some content needed to be banned.

This very much includes Facebook's decision this week to ban white nationalist content, a move that critics have demanded for years and that Facebook could have introduced at any time.

On the other hand, you have democratic governments (leaving authoritarian countries like China out of the mix) that have become far too comfortable exerting behind-the-scenes pressure on platforms to remove content or withdraw their services in the absence of legislation or formal legal orders.

Whether it's pressure on companies to withdraw web-hosting and payments services from Wikileaks following the leak of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, or the documented influence of the American to pressure companies like Google into supposedly "industry-driven" trademark enforcement efforts, government regulation of is happening, but without any real accountability.

Debating the regulation of online speech

This reality is nowhere reflected in the debates over whether and/or how to regulate online speech. Instead of grappling with these basic facts, far too much of the debate over how to regulate social media is caught up in a U.S.-driven, libertarian-derived fever dream that sees all speech regulation as inherently problematic, cannot differentiate between liberal-democratic and totalitarian governments, and is obsessed with deploying technological tools to allow global platforms to deal with any problems.

In other words, governments are regulating speech, but not through democratic channels. Online platforms and internet service providers are regulating speech based on self-interested terms of service. That is, until the moment they decide to drop the banhammer.

The problem, to be crystal clear, is not that governments and these companies are regulating online content. All societies recognize that some kinds of speech are inherently destabilizing or harmful to individuals or specific communities. Child pornography is the most obvious example of this type of content.

Beyond such a straightforward example, different societies will draw different lines between acceptable and unacceptable content —think Germany's ban on public Holocaust denialism —but every society does have a line.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: How the Christchurch terrorist used 8chan to connect and joke with neo-Nazis.

Ignoring the problem

Instead, the real problem —the one we ignore by focusing on the sideshow of whether speech should be regulated when it obviously always is —is about who should draw a line that is inherently subjective, and that changes over time and across societies. It is, in short, an issue of accountability: are we happy with American companies, or governments engaged in shadowy pressure games, making these decisions?

In order to deal with both of these problems —decisions made by unaccountable, profit-seeking global giants, and clandestine pressure tactics from supposedly democratic governments —we need to bring decisions about what content should be regulated and how these decisions are made into the public sphere.

We have to ensure that decisions about what speech gets regulated are made by the people affected by these rules. That's the whole point of democracy.

What this means is that in the absence of a global government, we need to think nationally, because that's where the accountability mechanisms are.

National regulation also respects the reality that countries have different social and political norms regarding speech. While the U.S. takes its free-speech absolutist stance from its First Amendment, for example, Germany recently instituted a law requiring social media platforms to remove hate speech or face steep fines.

Germany's law may be controversial. However, it's important to recognize that all efforts to regulate speech involve trade-offs, but that these efforts are designed to respond to a legitimate societal need. Plus, given the explosion of murderous real-world consequences associated with Facebook, for example, it's not clear that the American way is better.

Global connections

In an ideal world, connections would be global and through , and they would operate in countries in which domestic law is the first and last word. For a model, consider Canada's banking system, embedded in a global financial system but subject to strict rules that spared the country the brunt of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Decisions about what speech would be regulated would be made out in the open, perhaps by an arm's length agency like the Bank of Canada.

Such proposals may be too much for those who see in government regulation the shadow of totalitarianism. We understand their concerns, but they need to recognize that we already live in a world of unaccountable government action when it comes to .

Outsourcing our democratic self-government responsibilities to Mark Zuckerberg has had terrible —even genocidal —consequences. Content and speech are always being regulated —the only question is by whom, and in whose interests.

We believe that when it comes to our speech, citizens should be the ones to decide, with rules that are set transparently and with accountability.


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It's time for a new way to regulate social media platforms

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Mar 28, 2019
Stop assigning yourself the right to define hate speech. Hate speech has become whatever goes against the liberal world view. Due to that, regular, everyday conservatives are being labeled haters just because they are conservative. NO ONE has the right to regulate speech, no mater what side of the political spectrum it comes from. People have a Constitutional right to express their opinion even if it offends someone. You don't have to read/see it.

mqr
Mar 28, 2019
Stop assigning yourself the right to define hate speech. Hate speech has become whatever goes against the liberal world view. Due to that, regular, everyday conservatives are being labeled haters just because they are conservative. NO ONE has the right to regulate speech, no mater what side of the political spectrum it comes from. People have a Constitutional right to express their opinion even if it offends someone. You don't have to read/see it.


That is inside the USA, the USA fortunately is only one country in the world, the worst for most of us in planet earth. So you must stop pretending that the world should follow the hateful racist ways of the USA.

Mar 28, 2019
Hate speech has become whatever goes against the liberal world view.

Demagoguery is false and it is a fraudulent defamatory mischaracterization of truth when it is leveled against others. Demagoguery against individuals and groups on the basis of their gender, race, creed, nationality, or culture can constitute a violation of their universal human rights. An individual's right to self-expression does not telescope into a collective right to deprive others of their own rights. Fraud is fraud and should be prosecuted, whether it's committed by the 'leader of the free world,' a political party, a corporation, or a church. Hate speech is just another flavor of demagoguery and is therefore a criminal act of fraud that deprives others of their rights. Indict, prosecute, convict, and punish the perpetrators and send a resounding warning to all posterity that chills their demagogic speech.

Mar 28, 2019
the USA fortunately is only one country in the world, the worst for most of us in planet earth. So you must stop pretending that the world should follow the hateful racist ways of the USA.

I would love to know what country you come from, mqr, that's so much better than the USA. Please enlighten us.

While you're at it, tell us why it's the worst on planet earth and detail the "racist ways" of the USA, which has the largest percentage of minority groups making up the total population than any other predominantly "white" country on earth and stronger protections for those groups than any other country.

From https://www.censu...E120217:

White: 60.7%
Hispanic: 18.1%
Black: 13.4%
Asian: 5.8%
Native: 1.5%

Ethnicity and Race by Country:

https://www.infop...ountries

Mar 28, 2019
Hate speech is just another flavor of demagoguery and is therefore a criminal act of fraud that deprives others of their rights

Um, no.

"Speech" doesn't deprive anyone of anything. It's just words conveying thoughts and ideas. The U.S. doesn't have "hate speech" laws because they abridge the freedom of speech which is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. You are free to ignore what people say or to express opposing ideas.

We have to ensure that decisions about what speech gets regulated are made by the people affected by these rules. That's the whole point of democracy.

"We" DO get to make those decisions in the U.S. Ostensibly, Facebook, Twitter, Google and other private companies restrict speech on their platforms but "we" don't have to use them. That's how "we" make those decisions. It's called a free market. If you don't like their restrictions, choose another platform or create your own. It's easier today than it's ever been.

Mar 28, 2019

Um, no.

"Speech" doesn't deprive anyone of anything. It's just words conveying thoughts and ideas. The U.S. doesn't have "hate speech" laws because they abridge the freedom of speech which is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. You are free to ignore what people say or to express opposing ideas.


Of course hate speech is a wrongful deprivation, and only a psychopath could be remorselessly confused about that. More to the point, a basic and fundamental concept of our justice system is that one individual's rights must never be allowed to obliterate another's. Speech that is made with harmful intent is not protected. Fraud is not protected. Go ask a judge if you can yell 'fire' in a crowded theater, credibly threaten with words another individual, or through your gaslighting cause psychological harm and be found to be without fault in a court of justice.

Mar 28, 2019
I don't know whether I'd rather see platforms regulating based on their liability or governments regulating based on popular sentiment. Neither seems particularly reliable.

Mar 29, 2019

That is inside the USA, the USA fortunately is only one country in the world, the worst for most of us in planet earth. So you must stop pretending that the world should follow the hateful racist ways of the USA.

Lemme guess, you don't live in the EU.

Mar 29, 2019
I don't know whether I'd rather see platforms regulating based on their liability or governments regulating based on popular sentiment. Neither seems particularly reliable.

Welcome to moral relativism, where there is no truth, just opinions and opinion crimes.

Mar 29, 2019
You seem to think there's no third way.

Mar 29, 2019
An article openly advocating for government censorship, this is quite disgusting to be honest, if there is one this the US is doing correctly it is their first amendment. Interesting what googling up the author uncovers:

Natasha Tusikov is a visiting fellow with the School of Regulation and Global Governance


State apparatchik furthering her own interests and increasing control over others, why am I not surprised.

Mar 29, 2019
This reality is nowhere reflected in the debates over whether and/or how to regulate online speech. Instead of grappling with these basic facts, far too much of the debate over how to regulate social media is caught up in a U.S.-driven, libertarian-derived fever dream that sees all speech regulation as inherently problematic, cannot differentiate between liberal-democratic and totalitarian governments, and is obsessed with deploying technological tools to allow global platforms to deal with any problems.

In other words
Naw it still makes no sense.

Until we get people out of it and get a competent AI to handle these things for us, it will be a clusterfuck. Because it will always be corrupted by politics, profit, or ideology.

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