Nicholas Goldberg: We rarely prosecute bigots and racists who spew hate speech. And rightly so.
But in the world of the online hate industry, especially social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there’s always someone who wants to get on the wrong side of the law. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen and then reap the reward.
An alleged member of a white supremacist community called for the execution of Jews. A woman accused of making false accusations had her Facebook account and her employer shut down. A guy described as a “pro-white extremist” even managed to get a judge to grant his wife custody of his children. These people are not innocent. In fact, they are among the most notorious perpetrators of hate speech online. According to Slate, an estimated one in five Facebook users have engaged in some form of online hate speech, with most of that speech being white supremacist.
One can only imagine what an actual prosecution of these hate speech offenders would look like. Would they be held in detention until they were tried and found guilty? Would they be handed over to a judge with an order to produce their online activities to the authorities? And if so, what is that judge likely to do?
It would be easy to assume that the answer is obvious. After all, the laws that we use to prosecute the accused hate speech offenders are all based on principles of free speech. But what about the bigoted people who are not accused of sending messages that incite violence? What happens to them? What is that judge going to do? And what do justice advocates have to say about that?
Nicholas Goldberg: I think, first, we need a better understanding of hate. We know that there’s a big divide in America between a lot of people who want to believe that their beliefs are the right ones—who believe that white people have been victimized by racism—and a lot of people who do not. People who want to believe that white people have, in fact, been