The Nuances of a non-Neutral Free Speech: Defining Hate and Offence in the Social Media Era
Elena Khoury 19 October 2021

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. That is the textual citation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter, in Article 19, safeguards, ensures, and protects the freedom of expression of any individual without distinction. A right recognised as inalienable and due to everyone from birth. Besides, partially reformulated, the same freedom is ensured and protected by Article 11 (Freedom of expression and information)of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In their preambles, they both declare that every state subscribing to and ratifying these declarations undertakes to respect every right and freedom contained therein. Indeed, these articles represent a common standard of achievement to secure their universal recognition among every human being. Furthermore, freedom of expression and thought is preceded by a specification about freedom of worship, a profession of faith, and religious affiliation. It is no coincidence that religion has been, and still is, the cause of major verbal clashes that often result in hate speech. That is because religious faith and belief are associated with various cultural practices to the extent of generating what can be called “cultural racism”. Although not the main topic of this paper, religious discourse can produce hate speech or be the subject of satire, as in the famous case of Charlie Hebdo, being offensive to many. Returning to the articles above-mentioned, it would appear that there are no objections to be made, either in the written wording of the recognition of freedom of thought or to the principle underlying it. However, although we have a general definition of what freedom is, it becomes subjective according to the contexts in which it is exercised and the different situations in which it may be banned or restricted. Take, for example, the text of the First Amendment of the US constitution. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. Freedom of expression is not and should not be regulated by law as an inalienable right. A right, universally recognised, to be exercised without any interference precisely in the complete freedom of everyone. So, I can say whatever I want just because I am exercising this kind of right in my liberty to do so. But what happens when to protect this freedom, we fail to protect human dignity and equality, the principle of non-discrimination, and the recognition of diversity in its equal dignity to exist and be manifested? Besides, inalienable rights. That is the point where the need to restrict or at least regulate freedom of speech is argued. Moreover, it departs totally from the alleged threat of political correctness. Indeed, that is nothing more than an excuse to perpetrate hate speech. This paper will answer these questions based on the author’s studies and stimulating research conducted by experts on the main topic.



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