Is Hate Speech Real? Let’s Talk.

This was a recent discussion I had with a fellow content creator, partially in the wake of PewDiePie and Disney’s parting of ways. The discourse was along the lines of “Does hate speech exist?”

In the original post, a creator who has been at their channel for about 4 years shared a number of thoughts on growing your channel including the comment “ Don’t use hate speech in your videos. Even jokingly. You will be called out for it, and in most cases, lose subscribers for it.”

Another creator,who I’ll call “Y”, the person with whom I had the discussion replied

Anyway, I agree with nearly everything you said, just not the “hate speech” thing. I don’t believe there is any such thing, words are words and any power they have over us is the power we’ve given them. Plus, I wouldn’t feel right self-censoring just because someone might find it offensive.

Below is the conversation we had. I’m curious to hear your take on the matter:

Morjax:

This is not the reality that’s experienced by minorities, nor bullied kids at school. Ultimately, you’re free to basically say what you like on your channel (so it’s not a matter of censorship), but know that if you say some things, you’ll alienate certain audiences. More hate speech -> more alienation.

Y:

I think it’s simply a fundamental disagreement about the idea of hate speech. What you do and don’t label as “hate speech” is purely subjective, and I’m not in the business of putting stock in subjective things, when I can help it. There’s no standard for it. I might find something offensive while you don’t, and vice versa. And if we just exclude anything that anyone finds offensive, suddenly we’re mute. And alienation is inevitable. Trying to please everyone will only serve to alienate others who find you fake, or compromising, or whatever. Your best chance is to be yourself, because at least you’ll be good at that. Besides, anything else would be a lie. Or it would feel like one, anyway. I say speak your mind. If nothing you say upsets even a single person, you probably haven’t said much at all.

Morjax:

“What you do and don’t label as “hate speech” is purely subjective, and I’m not in the business of putting stock in subjective things, when I can help it. There’s no standard for it.”

Just because we don’t have a clear delineation of what is or is not hate speech, it doesn’t mean that it cannot hurt people or cause damage, and that any attempt at defining what’s socially acceptable should be abandoned. As an admittedly extreme example, white supremacists following an black schoolchild to school screaming racial slurs at them does do damage. Like, irrefutably so. Just because there’s no standard for something, it doesn’t mean that thing doesn’t exist. There used to not be standards for math and physics and those things were still 100% real.

“And alienation is inevitable. Trying to please everyone will only serve to alienate others who find you fake, or compromising, or whatever.”

Yes, it is an impossibility to please everyone. That being said, I personally draw a distinction between “trying to please everyone” and “Actively tearing down/slandering/hating a group of people or partaking in hateful speech”. I’m saying that it does not make sense to go from “Welp, I can’t please everyone…” to “Better kill all Jews!”, or even more muted transitions along that same spectrum.

“Your best chance is to be yourself, because at least you’ll be good at that.”

Yes, people should generally be themselves. But don’t be a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, etc. There are limits and consequences, even if they’re not well defined.

Y:

I think we’re getting off topic here, but I just want to say that I disagree 100%. Hate speech does not exist. It is rooted only in the subjective views of each individual. In your example, the only thing I find wrong is that these people are following a schoolkid — that’s harassment. Easy to define. But them saying something you don’t like? They have that right, and I’d fight to defend it, no matter what it is they said.
And the math and physics analogy is good one, because it shows exactly what I mean. 2+2=4. There’s no way around that. You can’t disagree with that. It’s a fact. If someone said “well, it’s more like 4.1” we would think they were nuts. It’s objectively 4. But hate speech is different. You have some certain personal definition, and someone else might have a more restrictive one, but there’s no reason to believe either of you are correct. Math and physics are provable. You can demonstrate that they are true. Gravity isn’t some agreed upon social norm. You can show gravity by dropping an apple. You can’t prove hate speech. You can’t prove that what someone said should be banned. You can only give your opinion. You can make your case. But that’s the thing. Since we are talking about talk, speaking about speech, the argument has really already been decided. To even entertain the idea of banning speech, you would have to exercise your freedom of speech to try to convince me. It’s a self-contradictory action, akin to telling people (out-loud) that we should all stop opening our mouths.
And if we start deciding what can and can’t be said, who’s to say I don’t find anything you say hate speech? Perhaps I have an irrational fear of the word “cat.” Maybe I was attacked by a cat at a young age. Maybe my family is cursed and has been attacked by cats for generations. Should the word be banned? Should we police other people because of my feelings? It sounds ridiculous, but think of some other, more controversial words and you’ll see that’s exactly what we’re doing. And yet there is nothing inherent to the word that makes it better or worse, only values we may or may not assign to it, for various subjective reasons.
To get back to the OP, saying something like “Don’t use hate speech,” is really just saying “Don’t say anything I don’t agree with,” or, at best, “Don’t say anything large parts of society doesn’t agree with.” That’s just not a statement I can get behind. Everyone has the right to say what they want, no matter how vile, mean-spirited, or personally offensive.

Morjax:

I hear what you’re saying, and it’s clear to me you’ve put a lot of though into your position. I guess my points are that
(1) you can, indeed, say what you like and
(2) there may be consequences if you say certain things.
Would you agree with that? Perhaps the OP’s comment may have been more explicitly stated as “If you decide to partake in hateful speech, realize there may be consequences as a result.”
Being in a position of great opportunity and privilege (through no fault nor merit of my own), I see a lot of real and daily pain occurring in communities with less opportunity and privilege than I have. Given the evidence available to me, I personally have decided that it’s negligent for me to ignore what these groups experience daily; there’s a whole spectrum, which includes harassment, hate speech, many various shades of racism, etc. I choose to try not to deliberately tear down, or otherwise attack people. Do I need to? No. I try to because it’s something I can control to try and make the world around me a better place.
Some people are able to cope magnificently better than others with negative stimuli, but the above schoolchild example, I consider that hateful speech (one can harass by way of hateful speech). As another example, what if someone were to announce regularly over a school, workplace, or park loudspeaker that “I think Jews are terrible” or “Blacks should please get out.” Some people can handle this just fine, but the fact is that this sort of behavior exerts a real psychological pressure on people. Perhaps we’re splitting hairs on what we each define as hate speech vs harassment, etc.
On the math and physics bit, you’re right that these are definable. The reality of human existence, in my experience, is that there are things that simply evade precise definition. For example, /r/Frissonis a thing that people experience, and I’m not sure you can label that precisely. The human condition is made up of a great deal of emotions that do not have a standard. Our reaction to stimuli is within our control, but to categorically disregard anything that cannot be measured and has standards locks one out of a great deal of what there is in the world.
Regarding the actual (U.S.) first amendment right to free speech, What’s specified is that “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.”. This has nothing to do with private sites like YouTube regulating what they consider appropriate to their community. That is the restriction by a private company of their own community. For the example of YouTube, you’re indeed free to say what you like, and there may be consequences based on what you say. You might not agree that that’s proper, but that’s the situation with non-governmental communities.
I suspect it’s unlikely that you’ll change your mind regarding your definition of what hate speech is (and thereby, your belief that it’s not real and the things within that definition do not exist), and likewise my belief that hateful language has an impact on people, despite the fact that some people handle it better than others. If that’s so, then perhaps we can agree to disagree.

So what do you think? Is hate speech real? Is it a matter of definitions?


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