While America was distracted by the unimaginable tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla’s death, something far more consequential was going on in Europe Tuesday.
The biggest companies in the tech world struck a historic deal with European Union officials to censor online “hate speech.” Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft all signed onto the mandate to cooperate with the continental body to regulate and restrict speech determined too offensive for the internet. (RELATED: Facebook, Twitter Sign EU Pledge To Counter ‘Hate Speech’)
With the the migrant chaos, terror, and subsequent rise of nationalism striking the heart of the European homeland, EU officials have grown concerned by the sight of their citizens expressing views on social media they find detestable and racist. The EU and many of its member states have laws punishing hate speech, something the United States lacks.
But state agencies feel that they have been thwarted in their efforts to police their citizens’ viewpoints by online platforms like Facebook. It’s up to Facebook to determine whether a person’s post is offensive and merits deletion or even suspension. Many of these companies have dragged their feet in the past in response to the demands of European states to more forcefully censor their platforms. Tuesday changed that.
In response to the new policy, the hashtag #IStandWithHateSpeech became one of the top trending topics on Twitter as people from all across the world protested the EU tech deal.
What could cause so many people to say they support a noxious idea like hate speech in a public forum?
Because the legal codification of hate speech undermines the whole purpose of free speech. The point of protecting the right to free expression is to ensure those who give voice to unpopular views are not punished. Those whom express views in line with the prevailing wind of popular opinion are not the ones who need the comfort of the First Amendment. By instituting hate speech laws, the government declares itself the arbiter of what counts as hate speech, which means they are more likely to go after unwanted opinions.
But what exactly would constitute as hate speech? If it’s speech that may offend someone, then pretty much all speech could be deemed hateful. If it’s speech that maligns a particular group, then Trump supporters could file charges against National Review. It it’s speech that proves divisive and polarizing, then we might as well abandon representative democracy.
The EU’s Code of Conduct sees hate speech as “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law and national laws transposing it, means all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”
While a pleasant-sounding request to keep discourse civil, it doesn’t seem like it’s the government’s purview to determine which words are hateful. And it isn’t just that hate speech laws are an example of government overreach.
They’re insidious rules that gives the state an excuse to clamp down on ideas and citizens that go against the prevailing orthodoxy. Note how the code uses the word “xenophobia” — a derogatory term for any and all critiques of immigration. The guideline itself already hints as to what kind of speech will not be permitted.
In Europe, these laws are used primarily against nationalists and critics of Islam. The European Union and its western member states are full-hearted believers in multiculturalism and mass immigration. The EU’s bureaucrats truly think that Islam can easily mesh with western civilization and we can all just coexist in blissful harmony.
This is their orthodoxy. Going against it means you are a bigot who doesn’t deserve to the right to air your thoughts in the public forum.
Hate speech laws have already been deployed to intimidate and silence popular politicians on the European continent. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, has been hauled into court multiple times over his criticism of Islam. So has National Front leader and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
And the homes of many ordinary people in Germany have been raided in recent years over negative internet comments about migrants.
Unfortunately, these same officials ignore the problems associated with immigration and religious extremism while hunting down anyone who disagrees with government policies on those matters.
Western Europe presently exists in a state of anarcho-tyranny. The governments of Europe can’t prevent Islamic terror or migrant rapes, but it can arrest any citizen who worries about these awful acts on Facebook. The power of the state is increased at the cost of its citizens’ liberty — with no security in return.
It’s sad our tech companies would agree to let the EU to perpetuate this madness and allow bureaucrats to set the perimeters for free speech. The town halls of our day and age are Facebook and Twitter. It’s where people gather information and share their views with the world. Not allowing certain speech on these platforms dilutes our experience as a society and puts too much power in the hands of the state to tell us what to think.
If we discriminate against certain opinions just because a certain group (or government agency) is offended by it, we create a slippery slope that eventually takes freedom of speech down with it.
And then we’d all be limited to arguing over whether zoos can shoot gorillas while our leaders govern free of serious criticism.