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Hating Free Speech

By Posted on 4 5 m read 247 views

The phrase ‘Hate Speech’ is fast becoming as popular as me. The audacity! Such effrontery!

Hehe.

Seriously though, it’s a buzz word! With the increased adoption of technology in communication, the culture of fake news, hate speech and misinformation has now been amplified. What would before have ended as casual bants among friends can now become a sizzling national discussion.

But let’s back up for a bit and talk about freedom of expression a.k.a. Free speech.

Freedom of expression is exactly as it sounds – the freedom to express opinions, thoughts, ideas and information. It is the equal opportunity available to all to hold and to express information through whatever medium. In Nigeria, Section 39 of the Constitution guarantees this right.

And Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human and People’s Rights. And Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. And Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights…

So we get that free speech is a big deal – it always has been.

Before the internet, it was absolutely frowned at for the government to stifle the circulation or dissemination of information. Journalists were being assassinated and hassled because of information they had or had dug up.  And now that the internet has come to stay, free speech has become even much of a big deal.

Statista states that there are approximately 93 Million Internet Users in Nigeria. Think about it. About 93 Million people in Nigeria are sharing their opinions and views – making jokes, posing questions, proffering answers, rallying belief, presenting independent analysis on several topics as may be touching on diverse demographics and areas.

This is interesting. And like I mentioned earlier, it’s not new. The reality of the existence of diverse opinions in a society which professes to be democratic is only being amplified by the use of Information and Communication Technologies.

(And you know what they say about anything that amplifies an already existing fact? They say such a thing would reveal character.)

This is, therefore, why the government’s treatment of free speech and its reaction to dissident opinions has become a negatively interesting national, regional and international topic constantly being discussed.

If you ask me (which you should), many African governments are increasingly being overwhelmed with the virality that ICTs bring and they are beginning to feel incapacitated and unable to control the narrative and opinions flying around. You must understand that this is sad bad sad for the government. 🙁 Is all hope lost? Do the people really get have an opinion and then express it just like that?  Does the government really lose this battle against the freedom and the exercise of civil liberties by its people?

Cue Audio: Soft music like this one plays for 10 seconds before being suddenly cut off by an action scene soundtrack like this one
Cue Video: (Camera moves at an alarming rate down the road to the government house. Whooshes past unblinking security men in black and eases into the dark underground parking lot. A couple of expensive cars are littered around and it is obvious that all entrances have been cordoned by more stealth ready-to-kill-because-this-is-what-I-am-paid-for looking men and women. We enjoy a brief 1.8 seconds silence in the parking lot and just before we become comfortable, in zooms a black van speeding towards the camera just before swerving to park in a manner that would irk a perfectionist. Van door opens and out steps a figure clad in a black hoodie and black jeans. Suddenly, the doors of the expensive cars begin to open and top government officials troop out and proceed towards said hoodiearian - he has come to save them from this proliferation of opinions all over the internet. As the distinguished officials halt just inches away from hoodiearian, he turns slowly and we can see his smile. 

He said, “Hello guys, I’m Speech, Hate Speech’)

To God Be The Glory

(There will be No Part 2)

Signed. Management Government.

You know, it is almost laughable when the government uses ‘Hate Speech’ as its justification for almost every crackdown on free speech. It’s their joker – and sometimes, a joke.

Now, I’m about to burst the brain of (almost) every government official:

“A PERSON CAN BE WELL WITHIN THEIR RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH AND STILL EXPRESS UNPLEASANT, NON-CONFORMING, DISSIDENT, OFFENSIVE, SHOCKING AND DISTURBING OPINIONS, IDEAS OR INFORMATION.”

Ha!

Yes, too too too too too too too too many reports have come forth of governments in Africa, stifling free speech under the guise of protecting the nation against hate speech whereas it’s just another way to censor or restrain opinions.

This NEEDS to stop. We all need to know that we can hold and share ideas – bright or dull, pleasant or unpleasant, stupid or brilliant, interesting or downright boring, good or bad, with as many people as will listen to us, with as many people as an unbiasedly governed internet will let us.

But Hate Speech though?

Yes. As much as it is my opinion to allow people run free with their thinking and sharing, I don’t think they should run wild. For the purpose of order,  freedom of speech cannot be boundless. Some form of limit, solely for the protection of other individuals and state, must be put in place.

And one of those things which can serve as a person’s limitation to free speech is Hate Speech. As in, the real hate speech not the poser in the underground parking lot of government officials.

So what exactly is Hate Speech?

Hate Speech is an expression of an idea or an opinion which, when adjudged in the right context and language and by a reasonable person in the circumstances, was willfully communicated with the intention and possibility to rouse violence against a specified and identifiable person or group of persons.

(Aside: I’m super proud of this definition I birthed from my laboured study on this matter).

That is what Hate Speech is. It has to be treated in its own context and cannot be judged solely based on it being a stupid or sad or annoying thing to have been said or written or communicated.

Questions that must be asked in determining whether a statement constitutes hate speech:

  1. Given the context, is the speech capable of inciting violence?
  2. If yes, is there a specified group of people against which the intended violence is targeted?
  3. Was it willfully or deliberately expressed?
  4. Is the act of violence even capable of being carried out?

These are, in my opinion, relevant questions to be asked before an expression can be tagged as hate speech.

See also this 5-point test for Hate Speech by Ethical Journalism Network.

To know whether you understand anything I’ve been saying for the last 1123 words, take this test:


[HDquiz quiz = “62”]

Thank you for reading! I hope you found it useful and interesting. I’d love to hear your feedback and I’d love for you to share this article with others.

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4 Comments
  • Praise
    February 18, 2019

    I think that the boundary hate speech puts on the freedom of expression isn’t a needless thing. I mean, the effects of hate speech and fake news are, in my opinion, enough reason to put some restrictions on the freedom to express opinions because, on social media, people do not necessarily always express their opinions. They sometimes just share ‘something they saw somewhere’, which sometimes has adverse consequences on people who see and act on it.

    However, an issue arises in the interpretation and application of that boundary. Sometimes the government over expands the scope of hate speech and that’s where the problem lies (I think).

    And, I totally agree with your definition of hate speech (and I can’t wait to cite it whenever I get the opportunity), because all the factors in the definition eg context, should ALWAYS be taken into consideration in deciding whether something constitutes hate speech or not.

    Thanks for your posts, as always!

  • David Egwede
    February 18, 2019

    Thanks you for this post Adeboro. As with all your posts, I have been adequately informed.

  • David Rotimi
    February 18, 2019

    awww this is so nice, thanks Boro, Its so good to know that I am more knowledgable than MANY policymakers so congrats, I’m a technocrat! This is a lot of knowledge. Keep it coming!

  • Sarah S
    February 19, 2019

    The importance of this article cannot be overemphasized. Thank you for an article well written and researched.

    I am well informed now.

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