Our recent investigation into the accidental UK Conservative Party leadership contender, Jacob Rees-Mogg, led us to discover the perfectly rational, balanced and sober Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore.
One of her recent offerings was on the subject of “hate crimes” and “online hate”.
Something must be done, she opines, there must be consequences.
Definitions are always a handy starting point when searching for the truth of a statement.
Firstly, what is “hate“?
In the English language it can have several related but different meanings; the opposite of love, for example. An extreme dislike of something or someone, perhaps. Without wishing to put words into Ms. Moore’s mouth, she seems to be defining it moore (see what I did there?) as an action than a feeling. Online hate, is the term she uses to describe this version of the word, suggesting the use of the verb rather than the noun version of hate.
Presumably she isn’t suggesting all hate must be banned? Hatred of olives, for example, would be a frivolous and difficult thing to legislate against. It might be straightforward to enshrine in law a ban on publicly-expressing one’s hatred for little green and black fruits however. Would that make the olive-haters suddenly, or even gradually, become lovers of olives? Of course not.
Defining the standard for what is hateful is equally tricky. Are you calling me rude names on the internet because you disagree with my point of view (here’s a few hundred words from Ms. Moore doing exactly that to JRM, without ever once critiquing his arguments)? At what point does that name-calling become online hate or even a hate crime? On Planet Guardian, it seems to be once we invoke certain physical, religious, racial, gender or sexual attributes.
At risk of invoking the slippery slope fallacy, who gets to define the limits of this definition and where does one apply for the job?
We might speculate that the flip side of online hate is offence. If the recipient of online hate takes offence, the hurt is amplified, which is perhaps the original motivation of the online hater?
Maybe there’s a clue in the way we phrase offence as a verb in the English language; we say that people take offence, suggesting that it’s a choice made by the recipient, not the hater offering it. The power is actually with the recipient.
Although we all know that we should strive for civility in our online discussions, we don’t always hold ourselves to that standard. However, to legislate to shut down those who are abusive risks collecting those with dissenting opinions or those with arguments we simply find uncomfortable in the same net.
Those of us who attract the attention of insulting or abusive online hate have several options available;
- Report threats of violence or incitement to violence to the police; this is an actual crime and has been for generations.
- Use the block button on whichever social media platform the abuse is arriving from.
- Log off, make a cup of tea and get on with real, not virtual, life like a grown adult.