Hate Speech or Freedom of Speech?

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 9 September 2017

This week saw another round of ugly squabbles within the extreme right-wing and others following the brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. While some celebrated her murder, others pounced on those celebrating. Ensuring nothing but ugliness all around.

Freedom of speech has always been a fraught concept. Absolute freedom of speech has space for every thought, even extremist ones, but it is also others' freedom not to listen to those voices, which can lead to a communication breakdown and hampering exchange of thoughts.

This week saw another round of ugly squabbles within the extreme right-wing and others following the brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. While some celebrated her murder, others pounced on those celebrating. Ensuring nothing but ugliness all around.

Freedom of speech has always been a fraught concept. Absolute freedom of speech has space for every thought, even extremist ones, but it is also others' freedom not to listen to those voices, which can lead to a communication breakdown and hampering exchange of thoughts.

In the United States, the 'torchbearers' of hate speech are arguably the block called as alt-right. Last month saw a huge gathering of extreme right-wingers that converged upon a place called Charlottesville. They were met with counter-protesters, and things soon got ugly.

One of the White Nationalists drove his car into the protesters, killing one. The murder was widely celebrated across the White Supremacist and alt-right platforms. Following this, the platforms faced a huge crackdown.

So, what is that to do with us? Well, it is amply clear that such a loony fringe exists in India, too. And while its deeds are certainly not on par with the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, they share the same hate for certain groups. Also, is India's law and order machinery effective enough to keep such elements in check?

We have seen multiple instances where an inadequate response has led to widespread destruction of both life and property.

A makeover of the law and order machinery is long overdue, but no party, belonging to any ideology or political spectrum, is ready to do so.

In India, freedom of speech is already curtailed under the heading of 'hurting emotions'. And like the US, it has been a long grouch of Indian right-wingers too, about social media platforms being selective about their users, and block those who beg to differ.

Here again, we are back to the original problem. How do you define boundaries for freedom of speech? Also, many people almost continuously rail against trolls. But who can be called a troll? Again, there is no concrete definition. The other party may simply call it fact-checking or other terms.

So, the situation is at a deadlock. But the platform owners have their own standards and guidelines to follow. When a user joins these platforms, they have to adhere to the guidelines. If they are not following them, it is the platform owner's prerogative to boot them. Those dissatisfied can start their own platforms, but that may only end in hampering exchange of thoughts from other ideologies. The only solution may be to keep the language in accordance with the platform's guidelines. After all, if you are free to express delight over someone's death, the other party also has the right to retaliate, and who benefits from all the strife?  

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