There Are Limits to Freedom of Expression -- Cut Online Hate Speech

Cape Times (South Africa), August 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

There Are Limits to Freedom of Expression -- Cut Online Hate Speech


There's a massive difference between unjustified censorship and banning hate speech. Hate speech is illegal and immoral. If you ban it, or delete it after it has been expressed, that doesn't mean you don't get the meaning of freedom of expression. It means you know there are moral limits to free speech.

It's time editors, including my bosses here at Independent Newspapers, got this insight, and policed hate speech more effectively online.

A brilliant comment piece published in the Cape Argus on Friday (Black in Cape Town? Brace Yourself), by a talented 16-year-old, Kine Dineo Mokwena-Kessi, makes for a good case in point. The details of her argument and observations do not matter for the points I want to establish. Essentially, she narrates her experiences as a young black South African who moved to Cape Town. Not my experiences. Not your experiences. Hers. You would have thought, what with us bragging about a progressive constitution, and a rainbow nation that's alive (if not fit and healthy) that it's fine for someone to own, and write, about their experiences of a city. Not so. She was subjected to horrendous abuse online in the comment section below her piece. (It is worth visiting the over 1 200 online comments for yourself).

Examples - verbatim - include, "Must suck to have folks know you are patently some sorry subhuman", "Just bloody well get OVER your retarded, backward victim mentality. If you don't like Cape Town, bugger off to Kinshasha", "We have enough Retards in CT. now F.OFF", "I'd love to wake up in the morning and not have to see a black face all day", "If you don't like Cape Town pissoff somewhere else where you can wallow in your blackness. Try Limpopo!", and more.

So here's my beef. Why on earth do editors of websites feel obligated to have a lower bar for what counts as acceptable than they do for what they print on paper? The double standard has no justification.

Sure, you have space issues in the hardcopy of the newspaper. But let's be honest. Most, if not all, of the quotes I have picked here would never be seen on the letters pages of newspapers because they either violate the dignity of the writer or, where the comments are not hate speech, they are so appallingly off the mark from a decent debate viewpoint, that a letters page editor would not choose them. …

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There Are Limits to Freedom of Expression -- Cut Online Hate Speech
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