Thursday, August 8, 2013

Freedom of speech or hate speech?

In the recent years we see a rise not only in Euro-skepticism, but in the support for far right political parties, xenophobia and racism in Europe. One of the consequences of this development is the spread of hate speech in various websites, forums, chat rooms and social media. 

 How can we deal with the very disturbing trend that is spreading, without infringing on the right of freedom of speech? If we ban hate speech, we will have to make sure that we know how to define it. It is true that we need to be careful in whose authority we leave to examine what is hate and what is freedom of speech. 

Nevertheless we also must acknowledge that it is an issue that needs to be dealt with. By using anonymity, certain individuals dominate social media and their websites, spreading their radical ideas or ideology. 

 Recently Mr. Juan Fernando López Aguilar, an MEP with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, commented on the issue on the Debating Europe website. He stated that Europe must respond not only politically, but with European legislation in reforming the framework decision of 2008. 

Based on the values of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, we should introduce legislation to strengthen the protection of victims and establish a new legal framework with criminal laws and penalties, to combat not only the politics of hate, but also hate speech as well.

I totally agree with his position, but legislation to ban hate speech is not the only solution. As it is our youth who is more vulnerable to the exposure to such unhealthy doctrine, because they use the internet the most and do not always have the right judgement and experience, Europe should put some effort in educating them on sensitive issues in school. Before they turn naturally to the internet as a source of information, getting radicalized as a result by certain people or groups with an agenda.

I guess as a true Parliamentarian Mr. Lopez Aguilar sees as the solution to the problem the implementation of more legislation. But this issue is not just like many others that we are facing, like the economy and the crisis. It is a sign of a moral, social and cultural crisis, that is hard to deal with just more legislation and without complicating things further and limiting the true freedom of speech of the citizens.

Legislation must be combined with educative and social initiatives and programs, to end discrimination and the stereotypical portrayal of certain ethnic, religious or other minorities. The role of the media must certainly be discussed and perhaps the proposed by Mr. Lopes Aguilar legislation must apply on them too, as they are the ones who often victimize or create a stereotypical image of a nation.

If this proposed legislation is designed carefully to target certain vocabulary or tone of expression and not the actual opinion, the we have nothing to fear as citizens from a move to implement a greater control or ban on hate speech. It is the way one expresses his opinion that counts. You have every right to hold any opinion, even if that one is not shared by the majority on sensitive issues such immigration gay marriages or Islam in Europe etc. 

But if you express these beliefs with hatred, no valid arguments or facts and just rants, then you are just become a bigot with nothing constructive to add to any debate and with the only purpose to offend groups that you do not like. In such case hate speech is unacceptable and should be banned, but not the freedom to express your honest opinion on issues like immigration for example. 

In other words watch you language and arguments that you use and you will be able to get your point across just fine, without insulting or stigmatizing certain groups of people just because you do not like them. The people who will design this legislation must make sure that they take into consideration the right to have a different opinion, as long as it respects the rights and dignity of all parties involved in a debate. 

Such legislation must not come into effect to block or dampen any open debate on any issue that we need as a society to design our future, rather regulate the content, motives and behavior of the participants as well as their use of language. Then it will be a constructive tool and not an obstacle, but also a sign of a mature and civilized society that respects all its members.

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