"Hate speech" can be defined as speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The concept of hate speech is much debated, especially in the United States, where the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. While there are categories of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment (such as yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theatre), hate speech is not one of them.
Many on the left argue that hate speech should be discouraged, or even banned (by corporations — such as social media platforms and online forums — or by state and/or federal law) because it incites or encourages real-world violence.
Many on the right, however, argue that the term hate speech is subjective and nebulous. Some even argue hate speech does not exist, and that it is simply a term used to shut down ideas or sentiments that people do not like or agree with. They argue bad speech should be fought with more speech, not bans.
With the rise of social media, the issue of how private companies ought to address hate speech on their platforms has come to the forefront. For example, in August 2018, Infowars' Alex Jones, widely considered to be a conspiracy theorist, was banned from major tech platforms, including YouTube, Apple, Facebook and Spotify. The tech platforms cited hate speech violations as the reason. While many on the left praised the move, saying far-right personalities like Jones incite domestic terror, many on the right said the definition of "hate speech" is too nebulous — that it could easily be applied to far-left personalities as well — and that bans on hate speech often provide leeway for prejudice against conservative speech.
Many conservatives support corporations' right to ban certain speech from their platforms — they don't think the state should prevent private companies from enacting and enforcing hate speech policies — but they question whether or not the application of such bans is healthy for a democracy in which the free exchange of ideas is paramount. They worry that speech that is simply unpopular may be deemed "hate speech" and thus, repressed.
Yet many on the left argue that hate speech results in tangible and serious harm to those targeted. They say hate speech perpetuates discrimination, creates inequality, and negatively impacts mental health. They claim that protecting hate speech means asking disadvantaged members of society to bear a burden that has real-world consequences for their health and lives overall. Because of this, they argue that hate speech should be repressed.
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