Hate Speech

Social Media Censorship Gaining New Ground in U.K., France

British lawmakers call for banning offensive speakers from social media entirely while France continues hate speech prosecutions

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redspike/Flickr

Just weeks after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris inspired a global show of support for free speech, French and British politicians are contemplating and creating new ways to suppress it.  

In the U.K., a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism (an informal group comprised of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons) recommends stepping up criminal prosecution of people who make offensive comments on social media. The report glowingly notes how British police "helped to secure a prison term for the man that sent an antisemitic tweet to (Parliament member) Luciana Berger" and revives the idea of issuing speech suppression orders to people whose statements are deemed hateful. Such orders, championed by U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May, would ban individuals from posting to social media or participating in various online venues entirely.

"There is an allowance in the law for banning or blocking individuals from certain aspects of internet communication in relation to sexual offences," the anti-semitism report notes.

Informal feedback we have received from policy experts indicates that this is a potential area of exploration for prosecutors in relation to hate crime. If it can be proven in a detailed way that someone has made a considered and determined view to exploit various online networks to harm and perpetrate hate crimes against others then the accepted principles, rules and restrictions that are relevant to sex offences must surely apply.

The report also expresses hope that European countries will work together to censor social media speech:

… it is beholden on the European community to arrive at a common understanding on the dangers posed by internet hate and to plan accordingly. … We believe UK officials should be seeking to mainstream discussion of social media into such existing forums and that our contemporaries in the European Parliament should be considering these matters with some urgency. In addition, our police should be on a par with, if not leading European and indeed international counterparts in efforts to combat online hate crime. In order to be world leaders, our police must be properly resourced.

Unfortunately, other E.U. leaders probably don't need much coaxing. Last Wednesday, a French judge ordered comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala to pay the equivalent of $37,000 for posting "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly" to Facebook in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. (Amedy Coulibaly killed five people, including a police officer, in a kosher grocery store.) In the past few weeks, French police have detained almost 70 people for hate speech, including a man who drunkenly shouted that police shot in the Charlie Hebdo attacks "deserved what they got;" he was sentenced to three months in prison.  

A new law that went into effect in France this week allows French police to shut down websites it deems to be promoting terrorism, without any sort of court order required. Emmanuel Pierrat, a French legal expert, writer, and activist, told Newsweek that he fears yet stricter speech restrictions are in the works, and this wil only exacerbate terrorist problems: 

"Things are not so perfect in this supposed liberal state. Just because this is not China or Saudi Arabia, we think we're safe."

He warns that the French government crackdown in the past few weeks has been the wrong response, and will be counter-effective in the long-run. "The main problem is the education of young people, and integration. Giving more money to the police to block websites is not the solution."

Pierrat is concerned that imprisoning increasing numbers of young people could result in French jails becoming breeding grounds for terrorism, as young offenders meet more hardline extremists. "If you send a young guy to these courts, you are giving them the chance to be converted by existing Islamists in the prisons. The problem will only get worse."

British lawyer and blogger Adam Wagner also worried about the affect of hate speech prosecutions on young people. He told Newsweek that U.K. hate speech laws are used frequently against teens and young adults, sending them to prison and potentially ruining their lives over careless statements posted to their Facebook walls. 

At The Independent, Grace Dent offers another reason to oppose prosecuting Twitter trolls: it doesn't work. "Better, more efficient ways to block and ignore prats on Twitter and Facebook … might make our individual lives a little smoother," she writes, but "asking the police and country courts to act as school monitor in the vast internet playground is unworkable."

I was grimly fascinated the other day to find out that one man who has targeted me on social media for years – him sending abuse, me quietly blocking without response – was arrested and charged for similar offences years ago. It hadn't slowed him down remotely. He, like many other offenders, clearly saw this arrest as a badge of honour. It increased his sense of self-identity as a brave speaker of truth.

As Dent continues, having hateful opinions is not a crime, and "it's not the police's job to make these people gentler, kind more empathetic folk with hobbies more rewarding than sitting indoors spewing hate." It is the police's job to prevent and prosecute actual instances of exploitation, oppression, and violence, which is generally not predicted by the use of an offensive Twitter hashtag. Governments from Bosnia to South Africa, however, are looking to the U.K. and other E.U. countries as role models on handling offensive social-media speech. 

NEXT: All the President's Voxsplainers

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  1. the dangers posed by internet hate

    I just can’t even.

    1. Hey man, it can hurt people’s feelings.

      Cyberbullying and internet hate speech is totes serious, like fur realsies.

    2. I thought the hate was half the fun of the internet.

    3. Having one of them there wrong opinions isn’t a crime, as long as you keep it to yourself. But once you start spreading it around with them there “tweets” and email “parodies,” then we Americans also recognize that your “free speech” is harmful to others and needs to be stopped. And we’re getting pretty darn good at stopping it, too. Because when you start looking behind that “free speech” veneer, there are plenty of darn good pretexts that we can use to get rid of this stuff. See the documentation of one of our leading criminal satire cases where we’ve been developing some of these special tactics for taking down that there Internet “speech”:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. Not my continent – don’t care. They doomed themselves decades centuries ago. It’s a long process, but it’s playing out, finally….

    1. There are a lot of people in the U.S. looking to EU countries as role models on this shit, too. I think this concerns us plenty

      1. We’re doomed, too, ENB. Give it time. It’s alllll over.

        It’s so cute when people have hope!

        1. It’s so cute when people have hope!

          Ya know, there’s a reason “hope” was in Pandora’s box will all the other ills of the world.

      2. The best European censorship law is the Swedish law that allows them to punish news organs for failure to expediently censor racist comments in their comment sections.

        Got that? If you’re a Swedish newspaperman, you get to be enlisted as a government censor against your will.

        1. Well, hey, as a US employer, I get to be the government’s immigration agent and tax collector for our employees! So we’ve got some practice in the US already.

          bring it on!

    2. Yes, but it’s a useful look at our future if we’re not vigilant.

      1. Exactly this. A cursory glance at the environment at America’s universities brings into plain view what many on the political left would do if they had the power.

    3. Not my continent – don’t care.

      Yeah, it’s not like any government would lay claim to your data/speech just because of the trivially circuitous route it took through their jurisdiction.

      Okay, but it’s not like most governments would make this claim consistently or with the explicit assumption of violence or criminal lawbreaking on your part…

      Your speech is as free as the invisible lines they draw around it.

      1. watch me not care

        ship. has. SAILED

      1. Ever since the invention of the internal-combustion engine, the atmosphere has been a free dumping ground for this greenhouse-gas pollution.

        Well, since the discovery of fire. Hell, since the first homo began exhaling, humans have dissed the atmosphere with our GHGs. Why start with the internal combustion engine?

    4. This almost makes me want to get a twitter account so I could say racist things against about Europeans, and be like an outlaw and shit.

  3. Why kill people who say things you disagree with when you can just regulate them out of existence?

  4. Europeans acting like Fascists? I’m Shocked! Shocked I tell you!

    Well not that shocked.

  5. my best friend’s sister makes $61 hourly on the computer . She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her income was $15147 just working on the computer for a few hours. this page…………..

    ????? http://www.netpay20.com

  6. How does this work exactly? English and French users have access to American social media, don’t they? The limeys and frogs certainly aren’t censoring what I am posting and their citizens can still read it. They can’t cleanse the entire internet.

    1. How does this work exactly?

      FYTW. Considering Google lost the ‘right to be forgotten’ fight. I assume it will work along the ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another!’ lines.

    2. It’s easier for a global internet corporation to censor everyone than it is to try to figure out your location- especially when there are plenty of jump-servers/anonymizers etc.

      1. It’s easier for a global internet corporation to censor everyone than it is to try to figure out your location- especially when there are plenty of jump-servers/anonymizers etc.

        I understood it to be on the basis of somewhat explicit prosecution of the person and/or account(s).

        The offensive tweet from xXx_jooh8tr_xXx to ladylover69 will be expunged from both accounts and all subesquent/following accounts (European or not).

        The only cases having little/no standing is if jooh8tr or ladylover doesn’t live in the EU, which, the case is pretty questionable anyway.

        IP routing issues will only be necessary/relevant when the next Snowden leaks secrets about the UK via twitter.

        1. There’s clearly a pressing need in the UK for government issued licenses to own a router…same as for TVs.

          1. Why not a license to own a twitter account. After all, Obama’s been working on a license write in a newspaper.

            1. Well, you know, if it would make us all nicer….

    3. I think it’s where the “offensive” tweet or whatever is made.

      I just cannot fathom how the land of Milton, Mill etc has fallen to this state.

      But this could be another tourist attraction to visit the US…see the sites, visit Disneyword, tweet offensively!

      Of course when you return…

      1. I just cannot fathom how the land of Milton, Mill etc has fallen to this state.

        I believe that they were always in this state which is what created the Miltons, Mills etc.

        1. They never had absolute free speech to the extent the US has, but they used to be by far the freest in Europe as far as speech and economic activity go. They have certainly fallen.

      2. Actually this is kind of interesting, suppose as a UK tourist in the US you issue an offensive tweet, under this law, would you still be liable to prosecution when you returned?

        1. I assume so. This whole “jurisdiction” thing seems to be some pie-in-the-sky fantasy concept they tell us about to make us feel better.

  7. What’s great is how this “new era of internet” (in 90s media speak) has led to the utter retardation of everything political.

    Imagine a government in the 1980s sending a note to the Washington Post telling them that the subject of a story has a “right to be forgotten” and they should remove all stories from their archives where said person is the subject.

    People would be like “whaaa?”, now they be like “Oh, yeah… makes sense.”

    1. In the pre-internet age, there would be no people to pay attention to it. All that happened with the internet was more exposure (I’m going to regret using that term…). You get to see a few more smart people and lot more stupid people because you get to see more people.

      “[The internet] is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. [The internet] is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

      1. +1 Best western ever

  8. oops meant “sights” though I guess it could be “sites” of the internet variety before long.

  9. I’m French and just after Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala post on facebook, people in the comment section of a big newspaper (Le Monde) were all like : “I’m in favor of free speech but …” “I support Charlie but this is different …”. The most retarded comment was about anti-semitism. It was comparing anti-semitic speech as killing jews. Because fuck you.

    1. “Because Fuck You” is the most ironclad argument that can be made. No amount of reason can penetrate its armor.

  10. The test for “do you believe in freedom of expression?” is:

    “Do you robustly defend the right to utter hate speech and believe hate speech serves a valuable social function?”

    If not, then you don’t.

    1. Do you robustly defend the right to utter hate speech and believe hate speech serves a valuable social function?

      Whether speech serves any social function is irrelevant.

  11. This is good. If we just give the terrorists exactly what they want, they’ll go away and not be scary anymore. That’s how it works, right?

  12. Twitter’s CEO was interviewed last week essentially advocating similar measures in the wake of the Coke/Nazi debacle.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/…../22925207/

  13. (an informal group comprised of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons)

    Would anything be lost if you dropped the sloppy word ‘comprised’?

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