Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?
Aug 13, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The question of free speech is an issue both in online discussions and in edcuational institutions. And with the fluid state of governance worldwide - from Russia to Egypt to Singapore - the question of what sort of speech ought to be allowed, and what sort prohibvited, occupies all nations. Few supposes that all speech ought to be allowed; even those radical supporters of unrestrained expression (mostly south of the border here) bristle when you challenge their core beliefs. To my mind, the line is a simple one, though in prasctice not always easy to discern: the only speech that should be prohibited is a speech act, and the only act that should be prohibited is one which deliberately causes harm to another.

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Comments

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

the speech act should be prohibited not only the one which deliberately causes harm to another but also hurting feeling & playing with the emotions of people making them aggressive to break law. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

Well, you can't simply say "your speech made me break the law." It's not an excuse. The person who broke the law should learn how to control his or her emotions. People can't be expected to tip-toe around trying not to hurt each others' feelings.
[Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

This an interesting and perhaps useful definition, useful in avoiding the pitfalls of overly literal "political correctness." There was a story not long ago about a CNN sports writer who wrote about a "chink" as in "a chink in the armor of" a particular team which also happened to have a Chinese player. He says that he didn't intend to engage in what some others labeled hate speech – that he was simply using a common metaphor for vulnerability in sports performance.
So how do we sort out intentionality? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

Once we've established that intentionality is the dividing line, we've solved the larger problem, ruling out accidental or incidental speech. Intentionality itself can be addressed empirically. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

Normally, the criterion of intentionality applies to the actual performance of the illegal act rather than its consequences. For example If I drive on city streets at 140km/h as a result of a stuck accelerator I may be blameless, but if I intended to go that fast then I am guilty - regardless of the fact that the street is empty and I think my act is harmless (and also regardless of whether I can claim to be unaware of the speed limit as "ignorance of the law is no excuse"). While freedom of expression certainly has much greater value for its own sake than freedom to feel the thrill of speed, there may be situations where it is reasonable to demand some level of due care and attention to the consequences of a speech even if those consequences may not be intended by the speaker (and even if the adverse consequences involve the actions and culpability of independent agents other than the speaker). [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: Where Should the University of California Draw the Line?

Yes, this is a recognition that a lot of speech has a speech-act component to it, and we need to be aware of that. There is an analogy in criminal law, under the heading of reckless endangerment, in which intention to injure may be absent, but there is indifference to the consequences of an action. [Comment] [Permalink]



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