Austria's Smokes & Mirrors for Speech

Often, users on Facebook would find themselves having pleasant conversations. According to the users’ anecdotes, it is “most often their mothers talking about the weather,” and not anything of substance from similarly aged friends. As such, Facebook has become a more peaceful place.

So, what happens when that peace is broken? Austria had a run-in with a similar case, and they decided that the best action is to demand Facebook take all forms of “hate speech” down, not just from the Austrian-website, but globally, from every server across the globe. What then, defines as hate speech?

It is said that it can be difficult to honestly draw the line between hate speech and free speech, but it can be very easy to mark the line if one is doing it for an agenda. Protests and riots, journalistic articles, and yes, even online messages could be marked for identification during the mania. Could hate speech be defined as speech that specifically targets a certain group? What would the groups be? What kind of speech? The left has often used the first amendment as a way to excuse violent protests and riots (namely, the events in Ferguson and Baltimore), and to even suppress the free speech rights of others. There is only one way to define it that makes sense and prevents tampering for any political agenda. In fact, it has already been defined in the 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire by Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy. Murphy summarized the law in the case as follows: 

"There are certain well-defined and limited classes of speech, the prevention, and punishment of which have never been thought to raise a Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous and the insulting or 'fighting' words – those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace."

 Image: Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire

Image: Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire


How should Facebook react? Ideally, if they want to make a stand for free speech, they should resist the temptation to use the ruling as an excuse to tamper with the free speech rights of its users. As an American company, they should abide by American laws and rulings, and only allow foreign rulings to affect foreign versions of the website. As long as Facebook remains to call themselves a technology company and not a source of media, they will not be held to strict journalistic, legal, and editorial responsibilities. Facebook has not yet commented, but time will tell what action they take next.