Hate Speech on the Internet





I. Hate Speech on the Internet
Generally, hate speech receives constitutional protection and is not prosecuted that is why there are relatively few court cases addressing this issue on the Internet. For this reason, sites containing speech discriminating people because of their race or sexual inclinations are available on the Internet. These include the “Ku Klux Klan,” “Nazis,” “White Socialist Party,” “Skinheads” or “Aryan Nation,” for example, which speech is not directed to any person in particular, thus not punishable. In addition, the nature of this medium makes it difficult to trace the perpetrators of hate crime indeed, Web sites are easily relocated or abandoned when legal problems arise. In RAV v. St Paul , the Supreme Court defined that speech leading to racially motivated violence could be punished. Hence, threatening private message involving racial epithet sent over the Internet to someone, as well as a public message on a Web site, are legally actionable.

II. The Internet
At the dawn of the new century, the rise of new media such as the Internet, seem to create new issue about the limitations of free speech. However the chore of some free speech cases remains the same as in the past 100 years.

The Internet is an outgrowth of a military program called “ARPANET,” which began in 1969. The ARPANET no longer exists, and today the Internet is an international network of interconnected computers. The Internet is “a unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication.” People can access the Internet from many different sources, several major national “online services” such as America Online, or CompuServe provide access to their own networks as well as broader links to the Internet. The Internet offers a wide variety of communication and information methods, such as “e-mail,” automatic mailing list services (“listservs”), “chat rooms,” or the “World Wide Web.” These different tools can be used to transmit text, sounds, pictures, or animated video images. The environment as a whole is commonly called the “cyberspace,” because it does not belong to a particular geographical location.

It is “no exaggeration to conclude that the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought,” said a District Court. Hence, the Internet is in itself, a “market place” of ideas, which concept was once adopted by the Supreme Court. An important difference between the Internet and broadcasting, for example is that users need to type the address of a known page or enter one or more keywords into a “search engine” to locate a site. This characteristic makes it a less intrusive medium than broadcasting, since users need to actually look for the information they want.

The Web is like a large library where millions of publications are available. The problem however, is that anyone can become a publisher and use this huge platform to address a worldwide audience. This characteristic makes it easy for extremist groups, for instance, to safely propel their message to the entire world. It allows them to communicate with other bigots, to promote their doctrine and to recruit people, while remaining anonymous. These groups however, have the right to express their ideas, even if they are offensive. Litigation occurs when an individual targets or harasses someone else because of his/her race, religion, or sexual inclinations, for instance. “Real life” cases have set precedents that also apply to the “cyberspace,” as some online hate speech cases discussed below show it.

While extremists have the right to create Web pages that contain offensive speech, users have means to deny them access to their homes. Indeed, filters and software are available for parents who wish to block this kind of material. These filtering tools provide users with a strong weapon, allowing the Internet to remain as free as possible from governmental regulations.

III. Hate Speech and The First Amendment
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech...” Every American has therefore the right to express his/her opinion even if the statement is offensive. The United States Supreme Court once adopted the concept of “a market place of ideas,” which laissez-faire policy allows good and bad ideas to freely compete. The logic is that harmful speech will ultimately be rejected and that it is better to tolerate a little harm for the sake of