I Hate All of Them – And You, Too!

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The United Nations has appealed to parents, the Internet industry and policy-makers to join hands to eradicate hate speech from cyberspace.

So what is hate speech, anyway, and what should Flickr do about it? Wikipedia defines hates speech as:
Hate speech is speech perceived to disparage a person or group of people based on their social or ethnic group, such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion,sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, skin color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability.

Wow, that definition is certainly all inclusive. “Bill Gates, like all those filthy and disgusting rich people, should be tied up and covered in plum sauce,” would appear to be “hate speech” by the above set strictures. Such a wide open definition is meaningless; every critical comment of anyone, or any group, can fit the definition.Notice, too, the definition assumes the criticism is either false or, even if true, is perceived in a way that’s still offensive to the suspect person or class.
As an aside, note the recent overblown contretemps over Harry Reid’s comments about President Obama.Was Reid’s comment hate speech when it only seemed to offend whites and not blacks (except for Republican chairman Michael Steele)?

I am a believer in unrestricted speech. Words are words; they reflect the speaker’s beliefs (which will only be reinforced by a ban on his words); the targets of hate speech are not hurt by the words themselves – they are injured by the hateful actions flowing from those beliefs. We should not police speech we believe to be racist, sexist, etc. We should abhor, and punish if necessary, acts that discriminate and cause real injury. Of course, its much, much easier to decry “hate speech” than it is to do anything serious to eradicate actual discrimination. We don’t end racial discrimination by banning the “n word” from polite discourse; we just make ourselves feel better.

Back to Flickr… Flickr is so incredibly huge, with such a astoundingly diverse membership, it is totally impossible for Yahoo to police in any meaningly way (even if it wanted to). Given the porous definition of hate speech, the near complete inability for Flickr to find more than a miniscule amount of the offending language on Flickr, and the intense, competing sensitivities of various national, religious and ethnic communities, Flickr cannot make any rational policy – nor create any rational procedure for enforcing any such policy.

Despite the above, Flickr will of course act when it stumbles across egregious examples of “hate speech”. The real question is what Flickr thinks is “egregious”. Does vile anti-semitism meet the test? What about vile depictions or descriptions of Israeli leaders or policies? It will turn on the sensibilities of the Flickr employee making the call. If you are chosen as an offender you will be summarily punished with no appeal.

It’s a bit hilarious that every ideological faction on Flickr is absolutely convinced the company is discrimination against its point of view and giving its opponents a free pass. Flickr loves Jews and hates Muslims, except when It loves Muslims and hates Jews.. Flickr loves Obama and hates Republicans except when it doesn’t. Flickr promotes South Dakota but maligns its northern neighbor… When any policy is irrational and haphazzard, it is easy for its victims to see a conspiracy against them.

It all has a Alice in Wonderland feel. Off with their heads! Just don’t ask why…

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