A contemporary issue refers to an issue that is currently affecting people or places and that is unresolved.
Some examples of contemporary issues are abortion, world poverty, animal rights, immigration, physician-assisted suicide, freedom of religion, hate speech, cloning, income inequality, pornography, gun rights, racial profiling, capital punishment, overpopulation, prostitution, drug legalization, torture.
With particular reference to Nigeria, Nigeria is faced with a lot of contemporary issues which the government and other parties concerned should look into.
Not defending the government, but the citizens as well are charged with the responsibilities of solving a lot of this contemporary issues. In my article I would be focusing on the issue of ‘hate speech’.
Hate speech is “usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation”.
Hate speech is a constant evolving phenomenon, with new perpetrators, targets and tactics.
Socially conscious journalists are aware of how rapidly hate-filled messages seep into, and often overwhelm comment on the Internet.
Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria. However, there is need to strike a balance between the right to speak and the pursuit of racial, religious and communal justice and harmony.
The discussions on the freedom of speech and hate speech often lose focus; definitions get fuzzy and legitimate concerns seen as unwarranted censorship. The purpose of this article is examine the problem cum definition of hate speech and vital distinctions between incitement to cause harm such as negative discrimination and violence and expressions that hurt a community’s feelings, including insulting beliefs.
Many countries have laws that censor or limit certain types of expression or speech that incites violence and hatred. There is no skepticism that the boundary of freedom owned by a person cannot hinder the freedom of other people, because there are freedoms to do things; and there are freedoms from things.
When our right to speak our mind encroaches on someone’s freedom from fear, then that freedom is expected not to stand unregulated in any nation that wishes to create a safe and respectful society for its members (Mohammed, 2019).
Some free speech advocates prefer an open marketplace of ideas, where no expression is restricted. They consider that the best response to harmful speech is through debate that lets different ideas freely challenge it.
Others argue that restrictions on hate speech are vital to the protection of minority communities from the harm that such speech causes (Minister of Justice, 1966). Different approaches to what is acceptable speech can be seen around the world.
Some countries show a greater acceptance than others for probably certain forms of speech and even the expression of certain opinions. For instance, United States of America has traditionally been a country where the constitutional protection of free speech is vigorously defended. (Ruane, 2019) Yet, even there, many restrictions of free speech do exist, such as speech that incites against “imminent lawless action” and those that censor obscenity.
Even free speech advocates agree that hate speech requires special handling, especially when leveled against minorities too weak to counter it. It has real and devastating effect on people’s lives, health and safety.
It is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress in fighting discrimination. Hate speech can lead to war and genocide. Although the right to free speech is a fundamental right, it should not be allowed to outweigh the basic human rights of other people, especially their right to life.
What Constitutes Hate Speech?
It could be said that there is no international legal definition of hate speech. The characterization of what is “hateful” is still controversial and disputed.
Hate speech has been defined as speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which communication is likely to provoke violence (Garner, 2004) Hate speech has also been defined by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (1997) as “covering all forms of expression that spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and people of immigrant origin.
Hate speech is a speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Hate speech is a speech that vilifies, harasses, intimidates, or incites hatred toward an individual or group on the basis of a characteristic such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The word “speech” here refers not only to verbal inscriptions and utterances, but also to pictorial representations and symbols.(Brison, 2013).
Hate Speech on the Internet
Communication is the essence of the Internet. Hate speech is particularly troublesome on the Internet because of the speaker’s ability to immediately disseminate the speech to numerous recipients all over the world.
There are various methods of expression which include speech, pictorial representations and verbal inscriptions. However, the various methods of expression are referred to as “speech”.
The Internet has introduced a new medium of communication as well as new form of speech, referred to as “electronic speech”. It is a speech that encompasses the traditional forms of speech, such as in the display of words or images on a computer. It also includes new forms of speech, such as Internet addresses, or domain names, and “code”, the machine-readable language of software programs.(Hiller & Cohen, 2002).
It is pertinent to state that electronic speech differ from traditional forms of speech in that one person’s speech on a website can instantaneously be accessed by millions of users across the globe. Thus, the Internet raises significantly issues concerning the definition of “speech” in different countries of the world.
In addition, any attempt to regulate the Internet must strike a constitutional balance between the need to maintain the free flow of information and the need to limit the availability of certain forms of speech.(Hiller & Cohen, 2002)
The use of web pages and chat rooms to spread hatred of certain groups increased in the 1990s. According to Simon Weisenthal Center, in 1995 there was only one racist site and by 1999 that number had increased to 1,400 (Hiller & Cohen, 2002).
Hate speech with respect to the Internet is particularly troublesome because of the speaker’s ability to immediately disseminate the speech to numerous recipients all over the world sometimes at the same time.
On May 31, 2016, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, jointly agreed to a European Union Code of Conduct obligating them to review “the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal/hate speech” posted on their services within 24 hours. This portrays the extent of concern the world has for hate communication.(Onanuga,2018)
On the other hand, there is a legitimate fear that crackling down on hate speeches could be used as a ploy to clamp down on critics of government. It is pertinent to note that social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and some online news websites are where disparaging posts, fake news and distorted news are shared and published.
These social media platforms being known for their relative anonymity and wildfire reach, are used by hate groups to spread misinformation easily and disguising such as if they were generated from legitimate sources.
Some unscrupulous users of the social media platforms manipulate known search engines to make their hate propaganda more accessible to a variety of audiences or receivers. Some have cloned websites to spread hate speeches. (Paquette, 2019). It has also been observed that, hateful content online diffuse farther, wider and faster than those of non-hateful users.
Hate Speech and the Social Media
A mounting number of attacks or immigrants and other minorities have raised new concerns about the connection between inflammatory speech online and violent acts. Rumors and invectives disseminated online have contributed to violence ranging from lynching to ethnic extremism. The world now communicates on social media, with nearly a third of the world’s population active on Facebook alone.(Myers, 2019) As more and people have moved online, experts say, individuals inclined toward racism misogyny, or homophobia have found niches that can reinforce their views and goad them to violence. Social media platforms like, Facebook, Youtube, Instragram, Snap, Twitter and Skype also offer violent actors the opportunity to publicize their acts. (Myers, 2019).
It is on record that social media is ripe with hate speeches. In Nigeria today, despite the benefits that came with social media on one hand, on the other hand it is also promoting disunity, igniting crisis and triggers hatred among members of the society.(Luab, 2019) Countering hate speech begins by a realization that while freedom of expression is a fundamental right, the emergency of social media has created multiple platforms for the production, packaging and dissemination of hate speeches.
The advent of social media has amplified citizen journalism; everyone has become a reporter. The social media has established an ideal platform to adapt and spread hate speech speedily because of its decentralized, anonymous and interactive structure. With the creation of social media, the essence of journalism is arrested. This is because apart from undermining the ethics of journalism profession, hate speech is a major factor in causing disaffection among tribes, religions and political class. The activities of Nigerians on social media are now being monitored for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security information by the military.(Nwankwo, 2017)
However, it becomes worrisome when the military decides to respond to anti-government commentaries. Many anti-government commentaries, especially by opposition parties in democracies, are not security threats nor does it constitute hate speech. In fact, they sweeten democracy. On the other hand, there is a legitimate fear that crackling down on hate speeches could be used as a ploy to clamp down on critics of government. It is pertinent to note that social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and some online news websites are where disparaging posts, fake news and distorted news are shared and published.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Hate speech exists both in Nigeria and other jurisdictions. On the other hand, freedom of expression is one of the basic fundamental human rights in the constitution of most nation states. Freedom of expression is widely accepted as being necessary in a democracy as it facilitates the exchange of diverse opinions. Democracy guarantees and protects civil and political rights. Freedom of expression is essential for vibrant, robust and rigorous debate, disagreement and contention.
The right to free speech is not unlimited, while few consider this freedom to be absolute, most would require compelling reason before considering the abridgement of freedom of expression to be justified. From the foregoing, hate speech depicts any utterance whether verbal or virtual which can endanger public safety, unity and national security. Anything short of this deserves to be curtailed so as not to lead to anarchy and violence. It is pertinent to note that for speech to qualify as hate speech, it must have occurred in the public. (Mrabure, 2016)
With the expansion of the internet and the social media, new regulatory challenges more frequently arise because of the global reach of hate speech once transmitted.(Guiro & Park, 2017) From the foregoing it is pertinent that limitations should and must be placed on hate speech. However, caution must be exercised to ensure that the rights of citizens to express themselves are not suppressed.
Conclusively, as new channels for hate speech are reaching wider audiences, than ever before and at lightning speed both the government, educational institutions, technological companies, international community, academia; need to step up their responses. A holistic approach that aims at tackling the whole life cycle of hate speech, from its roots causes to its impact on societies should be adopted by all stakeholders. The following are hereby recommended:
a. Enactment of a new law where hate speech would be clearly defined in Nigeria and caution taken not to encroach into the realms of freedom of speech as guaranteed by the constitution.
b. Education on media ethics: this should focus on the rights and freedom of journalist and their role in creating and promoting peaceful societies.
c. Encourage conflict sensitive reporting and multicultural awareness campaigns: this should emphasize knowledge about and respect for the diversity of cultures and traditions.
d. End impunity against hate crimes: this can be tackled by establishing evaluation units in newsroom. These units will bring the attention of key institutions and the civil society groups to help in speaking against hate crimes.
e. Encourage victims and witnesses to report hate speech related crimes.