Libel and hate speech

I think that legislation against any form of free speech - even idiotic free speech - is wrong and dangerous. As such, defamatory statements and hate speech should be allowed if anyone wants to be nasty enough to indulge in them.


Exactly. Where do you draw the line? Just don’t complain when you are called a $%#@.

I would draw the line at the point where speech causes real harm, e.g. incitement to violence. You can say that there are already laws against violence, and that the the violence itself should be punished, and not the speech that incited it, but that doesn’t serve a preventive purpose. Those who indulge in hate speech are usually the first to melt away in the crowd when it comes to the nitty-gritty physical stuff, but they should be held responsible in some way.

By making laws that protect a person against the mere words of others, we are crediting slanderers and hate speech artists with much more than they may deserve. The implication of such legislation is that words and opinions have value merely because they are uttered! But if everybody could fearlessly say what they please, words and opinions will be recognised - and rightly so - as dirt cheap. As a result, actual evidence will become a premium resource, and the only thing that can ultimately be relied upon.


Thanks to the web, hate speech has now for all practical purposes in fact become legal, whatever the law says. Whether this is a good thing I don’t know, but it is what it is.

Uh, I’m not so sure about that. It all depends on what jurisdiction you happen to be in, what overly-sensitive person reads your text and rats you out, and how badly a prosecutor wants to score a win.

This is the problem with saying stuff “to friends” online. You’re basically saying them in a public space where any passer-by could take it the wrong way.

If a speaker manages to induce violence, perhaps the problem lies mostly with the audience.


My understanding is that libel is not a legal term in SA. It may refer to defamation, which is not an offence, but can lead to a civil claim for damages, or crimen injuria, which is an offence in SA and can be prosecuted. I support the ability to seek compensation, should your person or company suffer damages due to the publication of negligent or malicious falsehoods. The case for crimen injuria is not so easy to justify, largely because the definition is vague. Developed countries have largely decriminalized such forms of defamation. The threat it poses to freedom of expression warrants abolishing it.

In the case of hate speech, I agree with St0nes that it should be illegal if incitement to violence is involved. The public is an excitable beast.

Hate speech and libel are prompted and carried along by the prejudices of the speaker/writer. Jonathan Rauch said something eminently sensible about it.

This topic cannot avoid raising the question of limits, if any, on free speech. These limits, in turn, cannot be fruitfully discussed without reference to the circumstances in which speech takes place. The classic in this context is the injunction against shouting “Fire!” in a crowded venue if there is no actual fire. Similarly, you are free publicly to denounce Jacob Zuma as a crooked moron with the grace of a horny goat at a political rally, but if you do so in the suburbs at two o’clock in the morning using a loudhailer, you’ll get into hot water independent of how Mr Zuma may feel about your announcements. Ditto voicing threats of physical violence or harm, which can land you in deep trouble if there is reason to believe that they were meant sincerely.


Well, yes, you could get into trouble if you say it all under your own name. But you can create an anonymous blog or website with a few clicks of the mouse, and if it gets deleted, simply recreate it again. There’s not much they can do about it, and the more extreme your views and pictures, the larger the chance that they will go viral after which there will be no stopping them anymore.

I wouldn’t rely on the anonymity of your anonymous blog. The powers-that-be can very easily track you down if they think it’s worth their while. Work on the supposition that nothing you do on line is private, and everything you do can be attributed to you, whether or not it has your name on it.