Engineering ‘Hate Speech’

  • Ansprechperson:

    Inga Bones

The research project aims at answering the question of what exactly counts, or should count, as hate speech – how the term ‘hate speech’ is, and should be, understood. As has frequently been noted, the current usage of the term ‘hate speech’ faces various problems. To begin with, each constituent of the term is potentially misleading: What many authors take to be paradigm examples of hate speech are neither obvious instances of speech (think of Nazi salutes or cross burnings), nor do they, unlike hate crimes, seem to require the presence of hateful attitudes on the part of the speaker, or agent. Second, there is no agreed definition of ‘hate speech.’ Rather, there are (at best) some uncontested examples of hate speech, while the concept allows for a plethora of borderline cases. Moreover, some proposed definitions exclude some widely accepted examples of hate speech, such as definitions that restrict hate speech to hostility in the internet and on social media, or ones that stress the verbal expression of hate.

The problem of providing a definition of ‘hate speech’ is aggravated by the considerably different perspectives of American and European scholars (and laypeople). From a US-American point of view, a law such as § 130 of the German penal code (the “Volksverhetzungsparagraph”) qualifies as a regulation of hate speech (cf., e.g., Waldron 2012, p. 8). But it is plausible that in the eyes of many German citizens, ‘hate speech’ denotes (many more) cases that are not covered by § 130. The abovementioned proposals for definitions, which were put forward by German institutions and authors, are evidence of this different understanding of the term.

Regarding the variety of proposed definitions and the frequent disagreement with respect to individual cases, I am convinced that the term ‘hate speech’ calls for conceptual engineering, or, in Haslanger’s terms, for ameliorative analysis. The research project is concerned with developing such an analysis.

Ansprechpartner: Inga Bones,